Today, I found myself going back to the famous joke about chutzpah: A lawyer is defending a kid accused of killing both of his parents. The lawyer begs the court for mercy because his client is an orphan. The UW System Board of Regents made a similar move today, passing a new set of tenure provisions that will allow cost to help dictate if faculty can be cut.
Regents President Regina Millner was adamant that the new tenure policies would preserve academic freedom and free speech, and be comparable to policies at peer institutions. She said the policies “strike the right balance” between protecting tenured faculty and giving chancellors the flexibility to make difficult decisions in the wake of state funding cuts.
“We’re at a point in time where we really have to consider the finances of the institution,” Millner said.
Millner was appointed to the board in 2012 by Gov. Scott Walker, who has taken a giant axe to the UW budget, thus leading to financial concerns that are forcing these difficult decisions. Who could have seen that coming, except for everyone?
Over the past several days, a number of stories have emerged about UW faculty and these tenure decisions. Sara Goldrick-Rab, an outspoken critic of Walker’s tenure tricks and a massive source of grant money at the UW, announced she was heading east to Temple, a school with a much stronger set of faculty rights.
Others have announced their plans to leave as well, although the U has also dropped nearly $9 million on retention offers to keep several key people in place. This “targeted” approach, however, doesn’t do much to keep morale up, as it basically says, “We only value you if someone else does, and furthermore, if you’re not a star, we probably don’t care.”
Merit policies that once provided at least some relief to all faculty, with a bit more for those who shine, are now “winner take all” contests, leading to further acrimony among faculty and a further divide among “haves” and “have nots.”
And keep in mind, this is all done through governmental appointments, governmental edicts and governmental requirements, even as that government continues to account for less and less of the universities’ budgets. I can’t figure out for the life of me how you can account for about 17 percent of a system’s revenue and still have so damned much control over how things operate.
Even more perplexing is the logical fallacy behind this whole thing: Cut the budget of the university so that tough times arrive and then argue that a process that further damages the university is necessary because administrators need to deal with these tough financial times.
All while bemoaning the debt that students are racking up because they can’t finish school quickly enough.
This might not be textbook chutzpah, but it’s not a funny joke either.