True to form, Governor Walker continues to ramp up the inflammatory and factually baseless public rhetoric against UW faculty in the wake of votes of no confidence that have now passed in Madison, La Crosse, River Falls, Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Parkside. Just prior to the Milwaukee vote, he released a statement that included the following:
“Some faculty bodies, including faculty at UW-M today, appear more interested in protecting outdated ‘job for life’ tenure than about helping students get the best education possible,” said Governor Walker. “The University should not be about protecting the interests of the faculty, but about delivering value and excellence to Wisconsin.”
As is clear to anyone with the slightest interest in understanding (and fairly representing) what faculty are actually saying – and to anyone who has read the point-by-point rebuttals of his longer statement – Walker doesn’t mind lying to deflect from the real issues and to score political points against the institution that he so clearly hates and fears. But even a brazenly false narrative can be tactically effective in the short term.
Whether Walker’s charge can be made to stick in the longer term will be seen when the UWM Academic Staff Senate convenes a special meeting in the near future to consider its own no confidence resolution. That will make them the first non-tenure-track staff body – and hopefully not the last – to consider such a resolution in Wisconsin.
The significance of a no confidence resolution from academic staff, if passed, cannot be overstated. Coming from university instructors, scholars, scientists, and support staff who do not themselves directly benefit from tenure, it would demolish once and for all the central claim of Walker’s attacks. For if the faculty’s “collective groans” were indeed simply about selfishly defending “jobs for life” as Walker claims, one certainly couldn’t expect academic staff to go out of their way to help them out.
Independent of what the academic staff do in the coming weeks, the GOP assault on public higher education in Wisconsin has already elicited an impassioned call to action from another constituency that isn’t personally vested in the tenure question. In the run-up to the no confidence vote by the UW-Madison Faculty Senate on May 2, the most compelling speech in favor of the resolution was made not by anyone from the faculty but rather by graduate student Cynthia Burnson, co-president of the Teaching Assistants Association.
To Governor Walker, Representative Vos, Senator Fitzgerald, President Cross, Regent Millner, Regent Behling, Representative Steineke, and every other public official hiding behind the expedient Selfish Arrogant Faculty smear to justify your wrecking-ball policies: Please listen to Cynthia’s speech. It probably won’t change your policies toward the University and its faculty, but, just maybe, it will jostle your smug ideological certitude enough to cause you to lose a little sleep.