Live By The Sword, Die By The Sword Redux

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A USA Today investigation calls into question "dramatic" improvements in student test scores in select District of Columbia schools due to an "abnormal pattern" of erasures. This occurred during Michelle Rhee's tenure as DC schools chancellor.

Among the 96 DC schools that were flagged for wrong-to-right erasures by the city's testing contractor in 2008 "were eight of the 10 campuses where Rhee handed out so-called TEAM awards 'to recognize, reward and retain high-performing educators and support staff'.... Rhee bestowed more than $1.5 million in bonuses on principals, teachers and support staff on the basis of big jumps in 2007 and 2008 test scores.

In 2008, to her credit, then-DC state superintendent (now Rhode Island education commissioner) Deborah Gist recommended that large test score gains in certain schools be investigated, but as USA Today reported, "top D.C. public school officials balked and the recommendation was dropped."

Such allegations and instances of cheating are not unique to Washington DC of course. In 2010, a New York Times article chronicled erasures in Houston and noted investigations in Georgia (including a criminal probe in Atlanta), Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Virginia.

This latest development, however, adds a new wrinkle to my 2009 post, "Live By The Sword, Die By The Sword."
Michelle Rhee and other education reform advocates have publicly argued that student performance as measured by test scores is basically the be all and end all....

Student learning, school leadership and teaching cannot be measured and judged good or bad based on a single set of test scores. Test scores must be part of the consideration -- and supporting systems such as accountability, compensation and evaluation must be informed by such data -- but they should not single-handedly define success or failure.
When such huge stakes are placed on a single metric, it raises the likelihood of monkey business. Although it is highly likely this is what occurred in DC, a former employee of DC Public Schools (who tweets as @EduEscritora) makes several smart observations on her blog:
[T]he fact that the number of flagged schools decreased so precipitously from 2008 to 2009 is encouraging, even if we don’t know why that happened.

The decreasing number of schools also doesn’t support the claim that the pay-for-performance system now in place under IMPACT has resulted in cheating; 2010 was the first year that IMPACT existed, and that had the fewest number of flagged schools out of the three years in the study and the fewest number of schools with over 50% of the classrooms flagged – only two!
The problem for an advocate like Michelle Rhee is that she has chosen to largely define success based on a single metric: the test score. If many of these DC test-score gains turn out to be illusory and succumb to what some are calling the "Erase To The Top" scandal, it may spell further trouble for Rhee as a spokesperson for the school reform movement. (Rhee has claimed the largest NAEP score gains in the nation under her leadership, although other analyses have shown that increases began and were larger under Rhee's predecessors.) Her credibility already has been questioned by some as a result of alleged embellishments on her resume about her own teaching record. Without credibility, it is impossible to sell one's wares to anyone but true believers.

From a PR standpoint, this erasure story would seem to call for a measured response that carefully chronicles whatever steps, if any, were taken by DCPS at the time to address the unusual frequency of erasures. Instead, through a spokesperson, Michelle Rhee chose to 'shoot the messenger,' bombastically placing USA Today among the "enemies of school reform." [UPDATE: From the Washington Post's Jay Mathews: "Rhee calls her remarks on test erasures 'stupid'"]

Given Rhee's rhetoric, her policies in DC, and her current focus as head of StudentsFirst (which increasingly appears to be working solely with Republican governors and legislators at the state level), Michelle Rhee has largely pinned her credibility to the test score. If she had chosen to sit on a stool with more than a single leg, she might be sitting more comfortably right now and might not be engaged in a such a precarious and delicate balancing act. No doubt by taking on teacher tenure, she would have made enemies no matter what else she said or did. However, if she touted a more nuanced view of school improvement and student success and didn't poo-poo collaboration, she might not face a growing anti-Rhee cottage industry and her new organization might have had a chance to be a true non-partisan force in education reform.

Let's Develop Solutions

Tired of the rhetoric? Want to take a stab at cutting costs in Wisconsin public higher education yourself-- or even try increasing productivity?

The Lumina Foundation has supported the development of an amazing interactive tool that helps you do just that.

Here's one result I generated:

Let's say we need to close the 2025 budget gap for Wisconsin public research universities to maintain current spending per FTE student. We can do that by increasing student/faculty ratio from 13:1 to 17:1. Period. Gap closed. No increases in tuition or state & local revenues necessary. And research suggests that such an increase will come at no significant cost to degree completion rates. If you want to suggest it will hurt instructional quality, you'll need to provide hard causal evidence to support that case-- I'd love to see it--email it to me!

Better yet, let's first increase faculty salaries per FTE to the 75th percentile (which means an increase of about $1,000 from a starting point of about $6,300) and do the same for student support services too. Let's further commit to no tuition increases, and assume no increase in state or local revenues either. We can do ALL that and still have no budget gap if we increase student/faculty ratio from 13:1 to 19:1.

What is required to increase student/faculty ratio? Obviously we either enroll more students, retain more students, or reduce the size of the faculty. Here are the two main challenges:

(1) There is a widely held belief that student/faculty ratio is THE measure of quality in higher education, despite an overwhelming dearth of evidence to support that belief. It's no coincidence that rankings systems rely so heavily on that measure--and that all this talk of being competitive seems to set aside any possible changes to the student/faculty ratio. In fact, since the ratio is actually interpreted to mean "commitment to teaching" that effectively precludes any real re-consideration, lest we come across as not committed to education! But come on-- what evidence is there that the number of faculty allocated to students is the best indicator of commitment? How about the number of highly-trained faculty? The amount of professional development offered? The valuation of teaching in tenure decisions? This reeks of a system that responds to the needs of faculty more than students (for more, see my next point). There are alternative ways to measure quality.

(2) Faculty. Faculty at research universities tend to strive for as little student interaction as possible. Yep, I said it. There are some exceptions, but generally we spend our time vying for smaller classes and less advising. Could we learn to teach bigger classes and do it well? Could we be required to do so at least semi-regularly? Could the advising load for undergrads be spread across a wider range of faculty (including those in departments that don't teach undergrads)? Sure. But you'll face resistance.

So let's stop pretending that there's only one way to skin this cat. We don't have to break from UW System, hike tuition, and/or become semi-private in order to solve our fiscal crisis. We have to have tough conversations about the best ways to deliver higher education in the 21st Century. Sure, that's a tall order-- but it's one that the smart communities of Wisconsin's public universities can no doubt handle.

Students Keep Hope Alive

Monday, March 28, 2011

When I was in high school, I dreamed of going to UC-Berkeley. The stories of protests against social injustices conveyed by my AP History teacher got me excited. I was determined to attend a college where students fought against elitism and embraced diversity. The computerized college match programs I tried out told me that only CUNY would fit my bill (every other school was too white). And my mom told me that I was about 30 years too late for the Berkeley of my imagination.

I ended up (sadly) at William and Mary, then George Washington University, and finally at University of Pennsylvania--entirely out of financial constraints (VA was in-state, GW was tuition-free thanks to Mom's job, and Penn offered me a full ride for grad school). In all cases I was surrounded by smart but highly privileged kids who had little sense that many had been born on 3rd base.

My heart is therefore warmed by the sudden realization, brought on by recent events, that many of the undergraduates at UW-Madison and around Wisconsin are similarly committed to doing what's necessary to make this a fairer, more just world. Despite rampant rhetoric from Richard Vedder and others who claim that they are lazy, adrift, partying fools, in fact some (many?) of the college students I've been observing lately seem downright committed. It's fantastic.

Tonight we get this news from Minnesota: “Students and community supporters...are outraged over soaring tuition, budget cuts, skyrocketing administrative salaries, mounting student debt, attacks on cultural diversity groups on campus, and blatant disregard for workers’ rights across the nation. In light of recent student and worker uprisings around the world, students in the Twin Cities are no longer willing to bear the burdens of the economic crisis while the rich only get richer. Inspired by the actions of students at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Madison, and other campuses around the state, U of M students are standing up against injustices in their own state and their own university.”

The students are occupying the Social Sciences Tower of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, home to that university's sociology department.

What's next? Perhaps Bascom. Perhaps the Sewell Social Science Building -- named for William Sewell, the late sociologist who named his presidential address to the American Sociological Association "Inequality of Opportunity for Higher Education." I dare say, Bill might be proud of student efforts to prevent Wisconsin's flagship university from becoming a gated community. After all, back in 1971 he wrote of his great concerns about the future of equality of opportunity in higher education, as universities found themselves in severe financial trouble, moving to increase tuition without sufficient compensation in financial aid. "Equality of educational opportunity," Sewell wrote, "is an essential prerequisite for a well-functioning democratic society."

On Wisconsin!

Photo: Jeff Miller, UW-Madison Communications

Higher Ed Experts Weigh in on Proposed Split from UW System

In a terrific piece in Inside Higher Ed, Jane Wellman and Charles Reed explain why a break from UW System is not an appropriate means with which to obtain greater flexibilities for UW-Madison.

As I've said here many times, despite Chancellor Martin's claims to the contrary, doing so would be effectively shirking our responsibilities as a public institution. A board charged with keeping UW-Madison's best interests at heart--and only UW-Madison's interests-- would destroy the state's emotional attachment to Madison as a "common good." Think about it: where else in the nation can you find citizens across a state who treasure the flagship's mascot and sports teams as their own, despite having never been a Badger?

Here's Wellman and Reed: "While system boards work imperfectly, their core purpose is more important now than ever before: to balance institutional aspirations with broader public needs, through planning, differentiation of missions, program review, and attention to student flow across institutions. Weakening the authority of higher education system boards will only serve to advantage the already privileged. The institutions will inevitably gravitate even more away from public needs, and toward institutional self-interest: selective admissions, merit rather than need-based aid, more research, and greater academic specialization. The teaching function and service to poor and working students and to underserved geographic areas lose out in this equation. This will accelerate the declines in educational attainment our country is already experiencing."

Those arguing that Madison has no choice, else it dies a slow death, are in my view "crying wolf." The lone comment on this article on the IHE website exemplifies this: "Thanks to the disastrous policies of its state legislators, U Wisconsin has zero ability to attract quality new hires at this point, and will inevitably crash and burn. It's a cautionary tale of what happens once "We the People" are in charge of higher education."

Huh? We continue to attract quality new hires all the time-- my department has searched every year for the past 6 and landed fantastic people. This year we had an enormous of of applicants and our first choice accepted the offer. This despite offering a starting salary of less than $70,000. I see the same going on in departments all around me. Sure, we've lost some good people-- but mainly because of location-- they have moved to be nearer to family, in warmer weather, to places with direct flights to major cities, etc. In less than five years, four of my most-esteemed colleagues left for elite private institutions and then returned to UW-Madison within a couple of years because they missed the academic community.

That's the thing-- at the end of the day those professors best suited to working at UW-Madison are committed to it for reasons that go far beyond compensation. We work here because we love the seamless communications across departments and schools, the lack of snobbery, the commitment to serving the general populace, the beautiful and affordable community, and a focus on substance rather than style. If we succumb to the competitive, elitist spirit that has consumed some of our peers, most of that will be lost. Sure, you'll be able to replace us with other talented folks in search of highest wages-- but you will lose in the long run, for you will have lost our soul.

A Must Read

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A huge public thank you to Paul Krugman for his outstanding defense of academic freedom in Monday's New York Times. As an untenured professor and regular blogger, I am eternally grateful that he -- at least -- gets it.

He is absolutely right about the risks of letting this kind of behavior go by--

"... less eminent and established researchers won’t just become reluctant to act as concerned citizens, weighing in on current debates; they’ll be deterred from even doing research on topics that might get them in trouble.

What’s at stake here, in other words, is whether we’re going to have an open national discourse in which scholars feel free to go wherever the evidence takes them, and to contribute to public understanding. Republicans, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, are trying to shut that kind of discourse down. It’s up to the rest of us to see that they don’t succeed."

Now if only UW-Madison Administration would take such a stance.

Stop the NBP: We Want Off!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The news that the Wisconsin GOP has begun to investigate UW-Madison faculty should cause all members of the UW-Madison community to take a gigantic pause and ponder the reality that if the New Badger Partnership is approved, Governor Walker will get to immediately --July 1--appoint the majority of the board that will govern the public authority.

This is not an "NBP myth." The Administration does not dispute this fact-- instead, they say:

"Myth: Gov. Scott Walker will be able to control UW-Madison because he will be able to appoint a majority of the board.

Fact: Having the executive branch appoint a majority of the Board of Trustees will preserve the university’s public status and its sovereign immunity status from certain types of lawsuits. The UW System Board of Regents is fully appointed by the governor to staggered terms, where the UW-Madison Board of Trustees would include appointments by the governor and the university of members with a closer interest in the university, such as faculty, staff, students and alumni."

Regardless of whether appointing the majority of the board equates with being "able to control" the UW, this statement does not dispute the fact that the governor will immediately get to make 11 appointments. In contrast, the governor's appointments to the Board of Regents would occur over time--only as the current appointees are term-limited off.

There are 17 Regents. Only 3 have terms ending this year. Another 3 have terms ending next year. It would clearly take at least 3 years until the governor could appoint a majority of the Regents. He may not have enough time.

We are supposed to be assured that the 11 appointees would have to have a "close interest in the university"-- well, frankly, who in Wisconsin cannot make that claim? UW-Madison is unusual among state universities in that it is widely viewed as a "common good." Everyone feels a part of the place and claims to have its best interests at heart. We vary, however, in what activities we think are in those best interests. There is even variation among the alumni-- attending a university hardly makes one an expert on higher education policy and practice.

It is abundantly clear that the Wisconsin GOP thinks it's in the state's best interests to harrass and intimidate Madison faculty. If you disagree, you need to send a very clear message to Chancellor Biddy Martin right now: The NBP should not be pursued while Governor Walker is in office. Period.

The Academic Inquisition

The witch hunt is on. Last night, my colleague William Cronon -- a highly respected, tenured professor of history -- revealed that the Wisconsin Republican Party made an open records request for his university email following the publication of his first-ever blog post. What was in that post? A thoughtful set of questions about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The investigation of Bill Cronon scares the crap out of me, quite frankly. And obviously, that's the intent.

We are told as university faculty that we are state employees and our writing is subject to these requests, but many of us operate (have operated) under the impression we are living in a rational, civil society that understands the importance of academic freedom. No longer.

I'm betting that a request is coming my way soon. I lack Cronon's long track record in academia, I lack his tenured status, I lack his measured way of saying things, I lack his status as a white male, I lack his apparent consummate ability to separate professional vs. personal life.

And, unfortunately, I lack the ability to say I've never blogged on ALEC. Well, actually, I didn't, but my husband did. On our blog-- which we, in the public impression, write together.

So, what can I say? I sit and wait.

This is horrible, terrible, awful time to be an untenured professor in public higher education. Am I a witch?

Increasing % Pell-- What Does it Tell Us?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Over the last several years, UW-Madison has increased its tuition at a higher rate than its System peers, thanks to the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates. That shift has not been accompanied by a decline in the percent of students receiving Pell Grants--in fact there's been a 5.5 percent increase in % Pell since 2000. Some are saying that this means that low-income students have been "held harmless" from the rising tuition, and that further increases would likely not lead to diminished economic diversity on campus. Furthermore, we are told, we can look to the outreach campaigns of institutions like UVA and UNC-Chapel Hill (home to Access UVA and the Carolina Covenant respectively) for models of anti-"sticker shock" programs that "work."

These claims are terrific examples of why it's a bad idea to make causal claims based on correlational data. If you want to make those statements, you can look to those examples and find support for your agenda. But you shouldn't.

In fact, the increase in the percent Pell at UW-Madison over the last few years is consistent with increases in % Pell at many colleges and universities nationwide over that time period. The cause lies not in successful outreach campaigns, or the failure of tuition increases to inhibit student behavior, but mainly in the recession. The recession had two relevant effects: First, many people were laid off-- and thus saw a temporary loss of income. Thus, students from families that in 2007 were not Pell eligible found themselves eligible for the Pell in 2008. The Pell is based on current and not long-term disadvantage. So an increase in % Pell doesn't mean you coaxed "new" low-income students into attending Madison or did a better job retaining those you already enrolled, but rather that a greater proportion of those who were already UW-bound (or already enrolled) now found themselves eligible for the additional help. Second, the Pell reduced the number of jobs available to students not enrolled in college--thus lowering the opportunity costs associated with college (e.g. foregone earnings). This could have independently increased both enrollment and persistence.

Furthermore, during the same time period, as part of the legislation that increased the maximum Pell the federal government also increased the family income (AGI) a student could have and qualify for the Pell-- from $20,000 to $30,000. Thus, a whole bunch more people became Pell-eligible during the period in which the MIU was implemented. And, the maximum Pell was increased-- possibly helping to offset the increase in tuition.

Thus, it should abundantly clear that it would be incorrect to state that the increasing % Pell at UW-Madison over the last several years is evidence that tuition increases do not inhibit enrollment of low-income students and/or that additional investments in need-based financial aid hold students harmless.

Same goes for the "success" of programs like the Carolina Covenant. Don't get me wrong-- the program seems great, and feels great, and the leadership is great. And for sure, the program's data looks nice-- they've seen an uptick in the representation of Pell recipients on campus and increased retention over time. As an evaluation they show better outcomes than prior cohorts of students. But as compelling as those numbers seem to be, they cannot be interpreted as evidence that these changes are attributable to the program itself-- and that's where the burden of proof lies. Indiana saw increases in college enrollment among the children of low-income families when its 21st Century Scholars Program was implemented, but reforms to the k-12 system were made at the same time, and the economy was booming. The program "effects" may have been little more than happy coincidence. We cannot rely on the potential for such happy coincidences when crafting new policies and making decisions about affordability.

It's time to get honest about what data can and cannot tell us. I've heard too many claims around here that it can tell us whatever we want. While that's undoubtedly partially true under the best of circumstances, it is especially true when we take no steps to collect data systematically and use sophisticated tools when analyzing it. If we were really committed to holding students harmless from tuition increases, we'd have commissioned an external evaluation (external= not done by institutional researchers) and made the data available for analysis. There are plenty of talented folks on campus who know how to do this work-- why not ask them to take a look at what happened under MIU?

We Are All Badgers: Even Stanley Fish Came to His Senses

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
While some continue to wander in the desert, other folks are waking up to the realities of the ongoing assault on public higher education. Remarkably, this includes Stanley Fish.

Fish's blog in today's New York Times includes some insights that more folks in Madison need to be cognizant of. Most importantly: "The erosion of support for public higher education is a part of a larger strategy designed to deprive public employees of a voice and ensure the triumph of conservative/neoliberal policies."

While I adamantly oppose the corporatization of higher education, Fish is right-- universities are more corporate in spirit every day. At my own institution, the climate is increasingly one in which faculty do not feel free to express their views, for fear of reprisal from administrators (to wit: The Sifting and Winnowing blog contains anonymous entries from faculty mainly because those taking "unpopular" positions are loathe to do so publicly). While hiring and firing decisions may not be made on 'ideological' grounds per se, there certainly is a sense that they could soon be made based on allegiances.

Faculty must have a say in how research and teaching gets done and they need to be assured that their say is more than simply advisory. Recent (and pending) events threaten the shared governance system that UW-Madison holds so dear. Given that unionization of university faculty now appears no longer an option in Wisconsin, we at Madison should protect Chapter 36 at all costs -- risking its disappearance into the new public authority (as it transforms to Chapter 37 under the leadership of Scott Walker) is just plain crazy.

UW-Madison Touts NBP Endorsement by Conservative

Monday, March 21, 2011

UW-Madison is touting a new endorsement of its New Badger Partnership from "Appleton resident Tim Higgins."

That's nice, dear.

Oh, except hang on a second....Who is Mr. Tim Higgins of Appleton? Not just an ol' man about town. This guy is a business owner with serious conservative Republican creds who is eager to "restore...conservative leadership" to Wisconsin! He was a Bush-Cheney '04 local Wisconsin co-chair.

Yep-- Scott Walker and his conservative cronies are all excited about the NBP. Things that make ya go hmmmm.....????

TAA Opposes NBP

For immediate release
March 21, 2011

Kevin Gibbons, TAA Co-President: 608-520-3560
Alex Hanna, TAA Co-President, 765-404-6996

TAA Opposes New Badger Partnership and the Formation of UW-Madison as a Public Authority

At a meeting Sunday, March 20, 2011, the general membership of the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA) approved a motion to oppose the New Badger Partnership. The TAA opposes the separation of UW-Madison from the UW System and the formation of the public authority model.

The motion reads:

The TAA opposes the New Badger Partnership, especially the separation of UW-Madison from the UW System, the formation of the public authority model, and the threat to affordability and accessibility it poses to public education and the lack of protection for labor unions on campus. The TAA also objects to the non-transparent and undemocratic process by which the New Badger Partnership was designed.

“Our members have serious reservations about the sweeping changes being proposed to UW-Madison and UW System and the process through which these proposals have been pushed through without the full engagement of the UW community,” said Kevin Gibbons, TAA Co-President. “We see these provisions in the Budget Bill as a blatant attempt to privatize public education in Wisconsin. The budget bill divides the campuses of the UW System and makes sweeping cuts to our institutions and thus higher education in the state.”

As proposed a 21 member Board of Trustees would oversee the University. According to the budget bill, UW-Madison faculty, staff and students would have just four seats on the Board. “Given this governor's antagonism toward our university system and the lack of adequate representation of the UW community on the proposed Board of Trustees, TAA members have said that they cannot accept these provisions. The TAA calls on the University to maintain its commitment to the principles of shared governance and the Wisconsin Idea,” said Gibbons.

The TAA advocates for a transparent, deliberative and democratic process that engages the university community should significant changes be made to UW-Madison and UW System. TAA members have continually expressed concern over the lack of transparency that they have witnessed over the formation, planning and legislative advocacy surrounding the New Badger Partnership.

“We are calling on the University to begin a long overdue conversation and evaluation,” said Adrienne Pagac, member of the TAA Stewards’ Council and a graduate student in Sociology. “Members of the UW community should have been consulted about the details of the plan prior to their inclusion in the Governor’s budget proposal. We should have been presented with a variety of solutions to our ‘problem’ of sustained competitiveness, but we were provided with just one, the New Badger Partnership, as the savior of UW-Madison’s reputation and mission. We should solicit alternative possibilities to address issues of competitiveness, funding sources, etc. before we move forward on a plan for which we have very few concrete details at this time,” said Pagac.

The Teaching Assistants’ Association represents nearly 3,000 graduate employees at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and is the oldest graduate employee union in the world.

What Do You Mean by "Shared Governance?"

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Whatever it actually means, "shared governance" seems awfully important to the faculty, staff, and students of UW-Madison. And so I want to bring to light an exchange that the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) had with Chancellor Martin about the New Badger Partnership at the end of January. I had heard about this conversation but neglected to read the text of it until now. I think it is something students should consider carefully, and discuss at great length. How do you feel about the process and how it's unfolded? How do you feel about the style of governance employed thus far, and what it means going forward?

What follows is an excerpt from the ASM "live blog" of January 24.

Beth Huang: I’ve continually heard that the partnership is not a privatization, but a way to give the university more powers. But I don’t hear much about what powers will be given to students, staff and faculty at this university. Can you give me your vision for how other players than administrators will have more flexibility?

Biddy Martin: First of all, I’ve never said we want more “powers.” We want more “tools.” Greater flexibility would allow us to rely more on our shared governance system. The shared governance system would have to do even more work and be even better. We would have more decisions to be made with shared governance groups. A lot of kind of decisions “that get made for us” right now, would be made here. I’m not against state support in any way. I’ve spent more time at the capitol advocating for state support than any other chancellor. But I’m also a realist.

Don Nelson (assistant to Chancellor): The protection of shared governance is a “bottom line” in any legislation. It gives us the student perspective that we just don’t have on a daily basis.

Huang: Right now I’m only aware of advisory committees that have to do with the partnership. When the budget comes out, will we just have advisory committees, or will students have votes on those shared governance committees?

Martin: We don’t know. Right now the advisory committee on the new partnership was just established last semester. “Everything that happens through shared governance is technically advisory.” Shared governance ensures that administrators don’t make decisions without serious consultations with shared governance groups. The only thing that would change is that there would be more opportunities for shared governance on this campus, and students would have just as much input in shared governance groups as they have now.

Huang: Would there be guaranteed votes on shared governance committees for tuition setting?

Martin: Tuition setting would not be done by a group on this campus. We would be overseen by a board, and that board would have the final authority to set tuition. They would set it based on recommendations from the campus. If we had a board specific to UW-Madison, I would want students to be on it. If I was given a voice on that matter, I would say that we want student representation.

Student: If there was a consensus across the university that we don’t want you to move forward with this, how would we be able to express rejection of this?

Martin: I think the proper way would be through shared governance. And if you do reject it, I would ask what you would suggest we do.

Nelson: I would say you should consider what principles of this plan you have issue with. Each principle will be voted on by shared governance groups.If there is widespread discontent, I think it would come through the shared governance process.

******* (A few minutes later) ******

Student: A lot of students are concerned that this is an attack on shared governance. How are your decisions really made, and how much student input was actually taken into account? I think students feel like they were alienated from the process.

Martin: I don’t see my position as a leader as sort of sorting through an agglomeration of opinions on campus. That’s not a leader; that’s a mouth piece. I feel good about what I did, which is take what I’ve learned over many decades of work in higher education, and come up with an analysis of what I think could help us, and then try it out. I wanted to see whether it would have any support before I pushed it with anybody. I published an article about it last spring, and I sent out a letter about it to the entire campus. I’ve been completely above board.When I was talking to gubernatorial candidates, I wanted to explain to them the importance of this university, using the powerpoint that is online, that everybody has seen. You need a different leader if you want someone who is just a mouthpiece for things that were voted on in advance. We would never get anywhere if we had people deciding on every detail before we could discuss anything with leaders. When I don’t seem to you to be adequately consulting, you’ll tell me and I can be responsive. I think the way the process has unfolded has been legitimate.

This is What Communication Looks Like?

Friday, March 18, 2011

UW-Madison Chancellor Martin has received positive press for her willingness to use social media to communicate with her public. In 2009 she was described in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as open to feedback, and eager to engage.

"We've got a chancellor here who has been trying very hard to be open to feedback. She's done a huge number of public forums, trying to build support for the Madison Initiative," [Katy] Culver said. "Having her out there and appearing to be someone who is interested in using social media, is open to letting her personality out there, that may work very, very well for her."

I thought this was super-cool of her. So, I started talking with her over Twitter about the New Badger Partnership. As a professional, I tried hard to balance candor, curiosity and a respectful tone. I mean, heck, I'm also untenured!

Imagine my surprise when a few days ago I noticed her Tweets disappeared from my feed. I was no longer following her. Not to mention, she'd stopped responding to me. I thought, ok, I'm being ignored-- I get it, she's busy, and disagrees with my point of view.

But it's more than that- I've been officially BLOCKED. Blocked from my Chancellor's Twitter feed. Can't follow her. And I'm told by others who oppose the NBP that I'm not alone.

This is what communication looks like?


UPDATE: Check out Sherman Dorn's "Note to Biddy Martin"

UPDATE: On Saturday midday I received a Twitter notification that Biddy Martin wants to follow me. Ok, so I checked: and now I'm allowed to follow her again. Needless to say, I'm glad she's changed her mind. On Wisconsin.

UPDATE: Me again. Apparently other folks are still blocked from following Chancellor Martin. This is not resolved.

Equity and Diversity Implications of the NBP

Monday, March 14, 2011

Interested in how the New Badger Partnership could affect the composition and quality of the student body? Of faculty?

Please take a look at this memo I drafted for several campus committees, posted by Sifting and Winnowing.

More Hard Conversations We Need to Have

As we think about ways to cope with proposed cuts to the UW System budget, here are a few more facts to ponder:

1. Costs-per-student are remarkably unequal throughout Wisconsin public higher education.

According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, "The cost per student calculation is based on standard accounting procedures that identify direct and indirect student-related costs funded by GPR and student fees. The calculation includes the direct costs of instruction, student services, and academic support. Other activity costs, such as physical plant, institutional support, and fringe benefits, are included in the cost per student calculation with the costs allocated based on the teaching mission's share of those costs. In those instances where a faculty or staff member performs research as part of his or her educational responsibilities, only those costs directly related to instruction are included in the cost pool for setting tuition."

The disparities by universities are nothing short of enormous: "Systemwide, the average instructional cost per undergraduate student is $9,910. The cost of educating an undergraduate student ranges from $8,289 at La Crosse and Whitewater to $12,747 at Madison, a difference of more than 50%." Overall, there is a variance of 42% in instructional costs across campuses!

Moreover, there are enormous disparities in the proportion of their instructional costs students and their families are being asked to cover: "Students at the campuses where instructional costs are the lowest, such as Whitewater, La Crosse, and Oshkosh, are paying a greater share of their educational costs than students at campuses with the highest instructional costs, including Superior and Parkside. For example, while upper level (Junior/Senior) students at Parkside paid 36% of the cost of their education, lower level (Freshmen/Sophomore) students at La Crosse paid 90%."

Here is the real kicker: "Despite paying a higher amount of tuition, students at UW-Madison pay a lower percentage of their instructional costs than the average for students at the comprehensive campuses. By contrast, students at Milwaukee pay a greater share of their instructional costs than students at the comprehensive campuses. This is due to both lower than average instructional costs and the tuition premium students pay for attending a doctoral institution."

Students at UW-Madison are from wealthier families compared to students at the other institutions, and enter with higher test scores-- so why is it that they cost more to educate and chip in a smaller share of those costs????

2. We have two different types of two year colleges-- the UW Colleges (branch campuses of the 4-year universities) and the Wisconsin Technical College System. In some parts of the state, a UW College and a technical college exist within a mile of one another! Many students have no idea what the difference is between these schools. The UW College students benefit from established articulation agreements within the UW System, while the technical colleges are constrained to only having transfer as an explicit mission at a very few campuses. Why is this? Who benefits?

The analysis by the LFB reveals that the UW Colleges spend more per student than most of the universities spend on their freshman and sophomores. Those freshman and sophomores also contribute a lower percentage of their instructional costs. Why is this? Are the retention rates higher at UW Colleges than at universities? In other words, is this higher spending cost-effective?

This are tough questions and these difficult times demand answers. In a recent paper Doug Harris and I argued for a new approach to considering how scarce resources in higher education should be spent. The data needed to estimate the effects of different strategies (including number of campuses, spending, program coordination etc) should be made available so that the public and the administrations can begin to consider costs relative to effects.

How Bad Are Things in Wisconsin, Really?

When things look terrible in your neck of the woods, it's always useful to take a look around-- it helps to put things in perspective.

I've been hearing a lot about how Wisconsin has disinvested in higher education over the past several decades, leaving Madison with no choice but to jump ship to become its own public authority.

Today Tom Mortenson issued the latest issue of Postsecondary Education Opportunity, this one on "State Fiscal Support for Higher Education."

Here are a few key highlights:

(1) In FY 2011 Wisconsin ranks 23rd in state fiscal support for operating expenses of higher education per $1,000 of personal income. The state spends $6.72, compared to a national average of $6.30. Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Virginia, Ohio all spend LESS.

(2) We rank 34th in the rate of change in state fiscal support over time (FY1980-FY2011). The national average is a decrease of 39.9% -- in Wisconsin we saw a decline of 45.2%. In contrast, Minnesota saw a 55.8% decline, Virginia a 53.6% decline, and Michigan a 45.3% decline. The decline we have experienced in the last 10 years was especially mild, compared to declines felt in other states (15.3% compared to 18.1% on average). Heck, Virginia saw a 38.2% decline in the last 10 years alone, and Michigan a 32.3% decline!

So, what's really going on? How can we juxtapose this with the rampant claims that the state support for UW-Madison (and UW System generally) has become a smaller and smaller share of our revenue over time? The key word in those claims is "share." Sure, we've had some declines in state support (while we should have had some increase to keep up with the increasing per-pupil costs of education)-- but the much larger change at UW-Madison is the significant growth in our federal funding and revenue from tuition and fees. Thus, as a percentage of Madison's total budget, the state's share is smaller. That's the figure being used to say that we (Madison) are no longer a public institution "anyway" -- and thus a public authority isn't a real change.

But that seems to twist the facts-- the state has continued to invest in Wisconsin higher education (and Madison in particular), albeit at a lower rate than before (other expenses like Medicare and prison are getting in the way), and since UW-Madison has not kept costs sufficiently under control it's turned to other sources to compensate. My guess? It would've done that anyway, to grow the research function of the university. Just look at our expenditures over the last ten years-- the ratio of money spent on teaching vs. research declined from 0.65 in 1999-2000 to 0.57 in 2004-2005, and now sits at .63. Put differently, we've seen a 56% increase in spending on research over the last decade, compared to a 51% increase in spending on instruction.

Facts are important-- let's stick to them. Wisconsin would be very wise to invest more in public higher education, since the economic and social returns are substantial. But it's not the case that Madison is at particular risk of a decline in instructional quality, a problem that COULD ONLY BE SOLVED by the New Badger Partnership.

In my opinion, the University of Wisconsin System needs to lead a hard conversation about the missions of its institutions, what they can and should receive public funding to achieve, and what priority must be given to cost-containment and instruction.

A Grim Prediction

Friday, March 11, 2011
Mulling over the events of the last several weeks during a trip to New York, where I met with several sociologists who specialize in social movements and politics, I have reached a rather grim conclusion:

After passing the New Badger Partnership -- or the Wisconsin Idea Partnership--the Legislature will advance the bill to Governor Walker, who will then exercise one of the strongest powers any governor in this nation holds: the line-item veto.

Writes The Nation: "It's not just a line-item veto; Walker has the power to veto individual phrases and words -- like "not" -- from sentences. If the state Senate returns to session and passes a bill with time limits on Walker's favored provisions, he can strip out the new language and sign his own decompromised version into law. If that sounds crazy, keep in mind that until 2008 governors of Wisconsin could -- and did! -- veto multi-page sections of bills, leaving in place only eight or nine words spelling out a law the governor wanted to enact. And that, in turn, was a much-narrowed version of the so-called "Vanna White veto" power enjoyed by Wisconsin governors prior to 1990, when they could veto individual letters out of words and individual digits out of numbers."

My prediction: Walker will use the line-item veto to strike down Chapter 37--shared governance.

This will leave UW-Madison (or the entire UW System) under a board to which he appoints the majority, and controls compensation, procurement, and tuition. And the right of faculty, staff, and students to participate in the university decision-making will be demolished. He will tell us that this saves our administrators time and money-- they will still "listen" to us, but will be under no obligation to act.

Putting shared governance before this governor is a surefire way to end it. This is why the NBP should have been discussed with the full campus community before our leader told the Governor this is what was best for Madison.

Of course our Chancellor disagrees. On the FAQ posted today, she responds to this concern as follows:

Q: I am concerned about the ability of the governor to make drastic changes to the budget after it has passed through the legislature. How do you address concerns about the governor’s ability to line-item veto parts of the budget, including all UW-Madison funding specifically, as well as policy, particularly when you will have little support from direct legislators?

A: A comparison between the governor’s proposed budget bill as introduced March 1, 2011, and the Feb. 18 draft revealed no significant changes. We acknowledge that Wisconsin’s governor has extensive line-item veto authority. He has supported UW-Madison’s need for flexibilities by proposing a public authority model, and we will continue to work on addressing any issues raised during the legislative process.

I see no reason to feel assured by this response. "Writing a "veto-proof" appropriations bill in Wisconsin is essentially impossible". I hope I am wrong. But I'm betting I am right.

I wrote this before I heard about the WIP

Thursday, March 10, 2011
From yesterday's EPS conference... my remarks. I hope they prove useful in some way.

Saving Public Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century: The Case for Pragmatic Idealism

By now we are all well aware—the United States is “losing the future” by falling in international rankings of the stock of college educated labor. Here at home, we are told that “for the good of the state we cannot afford to have the quality of UW-Madison … erode because we have our hands tied behind us in a range of ways that make us uncompetitive with other public and private universities around the world."

The need to compete – with other colleges and universities across the world, across the country, and across our state – is the dominant and ever-present message stalking public higher education today. It drives our administrators to seek creative financing strategies and new governance structures, pushes our faculty to take on extensive grant-writing efforts and build in time-consuming travel, and makes students and families reach ever-deeper into their savings and lifetime earnings to try and buy the best.

The implications for the educational enterprise that we call higher education are devastating. Rather than working together towards common goals—for example of producing a thoughtful, engaged group of citizens, land-grant institutions have thrown aside their core missions and silently declared war on one another. It has become a “survival of the fittest” where the terms of success are dictated by how many of the best-prepared and most able-to-pay students you can admit. The spirit of education has been lost.

Education requires cooperation—cooperation between teachers, administrators, students, and parents. In higher education, where movement among colleges is rampant—nearly half of all undergraduates today attend more than one college—cooperation and coordination is paramount. But the fight for prestige, for resources, and for status condemns cooperation to sound almost quaint. Instead of working together to gain a bigger loaf for public higher education, we are scheming over how to squirrel away the most breadcrumbs.

What’s more, we never compete over how well we educate. Let’s be honest: higher education in this country is not primarily—and perhaps never really has been—about the students. If it were, we would be doing more to make sure that we not only enroll them but that we also educate them. We would not simply hire more faculty and staff, but ensure that those inputs translated into greater student success. We have done a remarkable job of inviting in more “customers” over the last several decades, but made absolutely no progress in helping them obtain the “product” they came for—the degree. We have done very little to ensure that we convey lessons that result in deep learning, have steadfastly refused to measure achievement, and even put up roadblocks to doing so. One of the biggest roadblocks is the claim that institutional autonomy is the key to success—that institutional leaders “know what’s best” and are hindered if not given flexibility to control their own destiny. It’s true, institutions are very good at acting on their own behalf—but in this competitive environment they cannot be trusted to act for the common good.

Contemporary higher education policies are not up to the job of reforming this broken system of public education. The Obama Administration’s agenda operates at a very shallow level, aiming at enhancing excellence by increasing graduation rates (not necessarily learning), promoting equity that helps students to pay more for college without asking them “what for”, and selling an efficiency agenda that places politics and costs first, and only includes effectiveness related to the very narrow excellence agenda (measuring completion but nothing deeper). Is it any wonder that none of these efforts have really succeeded?

The results of this unchecked competition are stark. Higher education today is a savagely unequal place. In some colleges in this country, students benefit from the resources created by enormous endowments, high tuition, and significant tax breaks. Per pupil spending is as much as eight to ten times higher at some private colleges as it is at the nonselective institutions where most of America experiences postsecondary education. But even within public education—even within a single state—enormous divides are evident. For example, here in Wisconsin, the public university educating the best prepared kids spends $2,700 more per student on instruction – not research, or services—just instruction---than the rest of the public universities. That’s right—we spend far more on the easiest to educate in this state than we do on the hardest to educate.

Competition is embedded in our history. There’s been a consistent trend in which individuals and institutions “consciously or unconsciously align…themselves into teams in an effort to protect or enhance their own team’s advantage.” There are team efforts to maximize benefits relative to costs, and team efforts to evade costs entirely. Economist Nancy Folbre recently observed that the maneuvering that has taken place among American colleges and universities over the last century, a “game of strategy,” “makes World of Warcraft truly seem like child’s play.”

We have created an aspirational elite that aims to compete in games it cannot ever win. The proliferation of power among the truly elite colleges and universities –those with billion dollar endowments and admissions rates below 10 percent--is bolstered by entire industries—the testing industry, the private counselors, the media (whose journalists themselves often attended elite institutions), and ranking systems at the national and international levels. Public higher education will never win in a competition with those folks. But it seems unable to adjust to that reality, insisting on the need to get further ahead. In a sense this is unsurprising, since the elites, as Louis Menand has noted, have “the visibility to set standards for the system as a whole.” Thus the claim that elites can and should dictate the terms of “quality” is practically hegemonic—it is, for so many, beyond question.

This is a terrible shame, since people have powerful college experiences in non-elite institutions that frequently go unnoticed. They are ashamed to admit that a community or technical college contributed to their education, or that before their graduate degree they attended State U. The elites reinforce this feeling by constraining opportunities for other institutions in ways that are often barely visible. Public support on the part of a flagship for its local community college or branch campus may be bolstered by an unacknowledged, unstated desire to preserve “quality” (aka high tuition and high admissions standards) at one’s own institution. Similarly, what appears to be a laissez faire “let all flowers bloom” attitude towards for-profits, schools that “aren’t even playing in the same game,” is at the same time a way to ensure that the working class has somewhere else to go.

The scramble to climb even just one more rung up the status ladder is all-consuming. The quest feels so necessary that it swamps realities—realities about the massive resource disparities that make achieving such “success” impossible. It makes us willing to leave behind those who cannot afford our newly jacked-up tuition, or cannot meet our newly-raised admissions standards—since after all, we have no choice but to race ahead.

Except that we do have a choice. As sociologist Peter Berger once said, “Unlike puppets we have the possibility of stopping in our movements, looking up and perceiving the machinery by which we have been moved. In this act lies the first steps towards freedom.”

We can no longer continue to skirt the moral and ethical justifications for the existence of public higher education by relying on the tired excuse that we are being pragmatic. The realists do not have this one in the bag. We can think bigger and better—envisioning public colleges and universities that achieve excellence not because they employ the biggest names, attract the biggest grants, or enroll the brightest students but rather because they successfully create individuals who are connected to their state and the world. With this vision, they would take students as they are and work to help them become outstanding—in other words, we’d help mold human beings into smart, ethical members of our community. Wouldn’t that be something worth being known for?

This way forward for public higher education lies in a new focus on institutional cooperation on behalf of students. We must begin to take actions based not on our shared fears, but rather on shared values. We cannot continue to act based on self-interest, but rather begin to consider that higher education generates societal goods in which we all have a stake.
This would be a very different way of doing “business.” It would require value-realignment. It would require a new approach to distributing resources. It necessities a real accountability system—one that is accountable to students. It would require those of us who work in the most elite public institutions to take on responsibility for the low graduation rates at other universities—which themselves are the consequence of systematic under-resourcing and demoralization from which we, at Madison, have benefited. We can no longer allow there to be colleges for “other peoples’ children” and attempt to leave them behind.

Mine is a vision of pragmatic idealism in higher education. We can be realistic, effective, moral and directed. The chancellor of UW-Madison recently asked a very good question: “What to do, what to do?” in the face of pending budget cuts. She offered a very common, and highly pragmatic response: “Begin with the hand we are dealt…” and seek new “flexibilities” to accommodate it. Instead, I recommend the pragmatic idealist’s response: Take the inevitable budget cuts, and use the resulting crisis to rethink goals and missions, and build a stronger, incremental case for future public investment that is consistent with our ideals. In cooperation with the full system of leaders, professors, and students ask: “Why is this the hand we are dealt? Who benefits from this hand? What are the alternative hands we could be dealt if we work together to make education the priority?”

What we do next is not merely a political or economic calculation. It is a moral calculation. Our actions reflect our beliefs and our awareness about what is really happening around us. If we confine ourselves to merely offering smart but dispassionate critiques, adapt to our new circumstances rather than actively resisting this change, and don’t begin to openly question the dominance of this competitive, elitist spirit, we will collectively fail to achieve the goal of educating students. As Diane Ravitch so eloquently put it last night, "schools operate fundamentally — or should operate — like families. The fundamental principle by which education proceeds is collaboration.” We have done a poor job of collaborating on solutions to the crisis we are now facing. The answer is not to pull further apart, but rather, to finally—on behalf of Wisconsin students—to come together.

Pick Your Poison

This is a strange new horrible world we live in. I have no idea what happen to democracy, but it's clearly left the station.

So, let me try to apply a little "pragmatic idealism" to the current moment regarding the New Badger Partnership. Today the UW System put the WIP on the table-- the Wisconsin Idea Partnership. It looks a lot like the NBP except it's for the whole System and it comes with real performance accountability measures. That means the most horrific part of the NBP--the splintering of System into a million selfish little pieces-- goes away. That's good-- that split wasn't Biddy's idea, it was Walker's-- and so it's something we ought to be awfully suspicious about.

That doesn't mean the WIP is great, or even good. The question is whether it's better than the alternatives.

I think the NBP is untenable. Even if it currently includes Chapter 37, it may not when the day is finally done. You simply can't trust this guy. It sets Madison up to be hated even more than it already is by the rest of the state, and it will come with great costs to equity--if not diversity.

So here are what I see as the best alternatives to supporting the NBP right now:

(1) Fight both the NBP and the WIP in the name of protecting public higher education--meaning holding the state accountable for paying its share, and doing everything we can to keep corporate interests at bay. In the short term this means taking a godawful cut and working really hard across institutions to find efficiency gains, which could involve, for example, closing an entire campus. I'm not saying I want that to happen but it might be one of the only viable ways to go.

(2) Support the WIP and work hard to ensure that it includes the following elements: (1) One board. Not 13. 13 is insane, and if Walker appoints 11 people on each of 13 boards, lord help us. If it's a 21 person board, and the governor gets 11, make sure that of our 10 ALL of them have vested interests in the INSTRUCTIONAL FUNCTION of Wisconsin higher education-- not the research or corporate functions. (2) Maintain tuition setting authority with that board-- do not give each campus tuition flexibility. They can have flexibility in procurement, compensation and construction, but tuition setting needs to be done by a coordinating body that has the interests of ALL STUDENTS at heart. Individual institutions do not-- they protect their own.

I'm inclined to support the WIP as I've described it above. I remain deeply worried about the invasion of corporate interests and I am scared to death of a board with a majority appointed by Walker, and I understand that Chapter 37 could be revoked from WIP as well. But I hear unanimous support from all sides for the need for flexibilities, and at some point even us idealists have to be pragmatic. I want the System to work together on its common educational mission.

I'm still thinking this through, as I'm sure you all are too. I want to hear your thoughts. Please share.

Taking Democracy For Granted

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

When citizens take democracy for granted, Wisconsin happens.

The current Republican leadership of this state -- who a majority of the people elected, sad to say -- is not worthy of a banana republic, let alone a state with a progressive reputation. If any one of them had any pride, he or she would stand up and say "This is wrong!" or even resign. But they are cowards and cheaters, the lot of them. They have trampled upon democracy, poisoned the idea of public service and brought shame upon the state of Wisconsin. Tonight, it isn't just about what they did, but how they went about doing it ... secretly, furtively, in violation of the state's public meeting laws.

Governor Walker "praised" the move, which tells you all you need to know. So, apparently, killing collective bargaining wasn't so intrinsically related to balancing the state budget after all, now was it?

This is NOT what democracy looks like!

Media Coverage:
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin State Journal
Crooked Timber

Wisconsin Open Meetings Law

"Public notice of every meeting of a governmental body shall be given at least 24 hours prior to the commencement of such meeting unless for good cause such notice is impossible or impractical, in which case shorter notice may be given, but in no case may the notice be provided less than 2 hours in advance of the meeting."

Photo credit: Jeff Pertl

Taking a Stand

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It is nice to see that more people at UW-Madison are waking up to the new reality-- Walker isn't the only one trying to end public institutions in this state.

We are in a tough financial situation and obviously that causes us to go into a protective crouch. We don't want to get hurt, and so we are willing to go on the offensive to protect our young. It's only natural.

The way we do this can be guided solely by our personal interests, or in conjunction with a set of morals and principles used to help us sort through decisions. The use of such things can help us to make difficult choices, but also is likely to make some choices more difficult. The world is a lot greyer when you have to grapple with the greater good, while also trying to do for yourself.

Take the rise of the Badger Advocates. Yesterday at Faculty Senate I asked Chancellor Martin who they were, and what interests they represented. Her reply, repeated in a tweet to me this morning, was this:

"Badger Advocates appear to be the kinds of people who support us with financial aid $$ and professorships. Forego it all?"

By way of explanation, our chancellor chose those two examples for me because I am a professor who studies financial aid and cares deeply about ensuring the ability of children from low-income families to attend college. In other words, a tailormade response. Much like the one I got when I asked for details on the new "sticker shock campaign" and how it would be evaluated. I'm the expert, she flattered me, and I could be involved in the design and/or evaluation. While I appreciate the compliment, the opportunity hardly offsets the risks created by implementation of a model no one across the country has ever found successful.

Of course, I want more funding for financial aid. Of course I would enjoy greater compensation. Of course it pains me to see my friends leave for other jobs (though truthfully many leave for reasons unrelated to compensation).

If I responded to Biddy based purely on self-interest, I would say "You're right. We are suffering, we need more aid and more money to pay our professors, and yes, please let Republican fat cats go get what we need from the Governor."

Sounds good.

Except, I was brought up to think about more than myself. More than my own family. More than my immediate community. I stand up for others because I know that ultimately if I do not, when I am hurting, no one will stand for me. We learned this lesson through centuries of persecution as Jews.


Students across this nation have taken stands against their universities for accepting money from corporations and individuals representing interests that are antithetical to the institution's mission. Most recently UW-Madison students protested sweatshop labor and got the UW to end participation in the Fair Labor Association. Students have held sit-ins, hunger strikes, stormed chancellors' offices, etc.

Abiding by principles means doing without money rather than taking money from those who seek to hurt you and those you care about. It's rare that the harm is clear and explicit and easy to recognize-- it's often framed as an "unintended consequence" down the road and left for generations to remedy. It's incumbent upon us to be proactive.

Throughout these discussion try and engage in pragmatic idealism. You'll find it life-changing.

I'll say more about pragmatic idealism at my talk in the Wisconsin Idea Room, Education Building, EPS Conference, tomorrow, 10:45 am. See you then.

Advocates for Whom?

The Badger Advocates formed this week to make sure the New Badger Partnership (NBP)--complete with split from the University of Wisconsin System--is passed in the Guv's budget this summer. Thank goodness someone is really digging into who these guys are -- this is a must read.

My question is this: I have heard plenty of folks argue this is great for the research enterprise at UW-Madison. I have no doubt that's true. I've also heard some who think it's good for faculty. And plenty who think it's good for alumni. I also hear from current students who *think* it's good for them. But how, exactly?

How does hiring 72 new faculty benefit students if teaching experience is not a requirement for hiring? If we continue to make tenure decisions based primarily on activities that don't involve students? Where is the evidence that any of the things we are dumping money into are causing improvements either in graduation rates, time-to-degree, gaps in degree completion and/or measured learning gains? Inquiring minds want to know. I've been pointed to the MIU website and told we're working on "quality." That's not enough when the case is being made that doing the one thing we ARE known for--serving as the flagship of a great public university system--is being taken away from the other 140,000 undergraduates and prospective undergraduates across Wisconsin.

Happening This Week

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dear readers,

I want to personally invite you all to attend two terrific events happening on the UW-Madison campus this week. I will be speaking at both and hope to see many of you there.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Department of Educational Policy Studies will be holding its annual conference. The topic is The Obama Education Agenda: Principles, Policies, and Prospects.

The speaker for the opening session, Tuesday night at 7 pm at the Union Theater, is none other than Diane Ravitch. (You can bet Liam is excited!) She will be talking about "The Future of Public Education."

On Wednesday there will be several panels and a lunchtime session featuring former Wisconsin congressman David Obey. You might've seen the video of Dave attempting to get into the Wisconsin State Capitol building recently -- I sure hope he talks about that. Take a look at the full agenda, and note that the title for my talk has been revised -- I will now be speaking on Saving Public Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century: The Case for Pragmatic Idealism.

In addition, Wednesday night there will be a teach-in about the New Badger Partnership-- Chancellor Biddy Martin's vision for our public flagship. It will take place from 7-9 pm in Humanities room 2650. Panelists include: Steve Stern: Associate Vice Provost for Faculty and Staff Programs, Chad Goldberg: Associate Professor in the Sociology Dept. and Vice President, United Faculty & Academic Staff (UFAS), AFT 223, and Ben Manski: Executive Director of the Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution.

There's plenty to do around here and a great need to get involved. Come join us!

Why Can't Democratic Leaders Break It Down Like Jon?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Jon Stewart makes a compelling defense of teachers on the March 3rd Daily Show. He juxtaposes numerous comments made on Fox News during the 2010 debate in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts for couples earning more than $250,000 against the "avarice" of teachers earning around $50,000 a year plus benefits here in Wisconsin.

As one Fox anchor put it: "250,000 dollars is not rich for a family of four sending kids to college! It's actually close to poverty!" Indeed. Further, Tracy Byrnes, a "Fox business contributor," railed against reducing pay or rescinding bonuses for Wall Street CEOs whose firms were being bailed out by the U.S. government because of contractual obligations. But, recently, she favored reducing teacher pay and benefits regardless of whether they were promised under existing employment contracts. What's fair is fair -- or not.

Very interesting. The Republican argument is that we shouldn't -- and didn't -- let the Bush tax cuts expire on income over $250,000 (an amount only a fraction of Americans earn), but, in Wisconsin anyway, we should reduce the take-home pay for teachers by more than 8%.

Where's the shared sacrifice? Or is that concept outdated in America?

You Call Yourself An Optimist?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"I'm an optimist...tempers will cool." Scott Walker, delivering his big ol' budget speech, 3/1/2011

There are too many important words being co-opted around these parts lately (more on "flexibility" "tools" and "crisis" later).

Optimism is one of them.

Walker, when you rule the world, you cannot begin to know what optimism truly means. Optimism is the faith that good will prevail even when the world seems dead set against you. As the guy on top beating the heck out of us, you don't have a clue what optimism really means. It's us who have to be optimistic -- that, eventually, you will no longer be in charge.

Let's Be Human Together

Being part of history in the making is a powerful thing. It can make you feel like you are--finally--part of something real. And of course you are. The trick is recognizing what you are part of, and responding as a human being.

Remember our dear friend Pinocchio? He was created by a nice guy (Geppeto) who was lonely, insecure, and sought love-- so he made himself a son. Except that in reality, his "son" was a puppet. He wouldn't become a real boy until he developed a conscience, recognized the power of (and reason for) his strings, and in doing so became part of the world. And Gepetto, despite hoping that his puppet would complete him, remained isolated until Pinocchio became a true boy.

Pinocchio's road to developing a conscience was tough. At first, he just tried to act like he had a conscience. "I've got no strings, to hold me down, to make me fret, or make me frown...there are no strings on me...I want the world to know, nothing ever worries me..."

He enjoyed the help of his friend Jiminy Cricket who tried to remind him that he needed to get a conscience. But time and again, he'd fail to make the right decision, and inevitably forfeit his ability to control his own fate. In an effort to teach him morality, the Blue Fairy came and made Pinocchio's nose grow and grow, until it eventually fell off. She told him "A boy who won't be good might as well be made of wood."

But the story sticks with the puppet, and he get a second, third, even fourth chance to figure out the difference between right and wrong. Gepetto can't teach him--after all, his moral conscience is clearly underdeveloped or he wouldn't have been so self-indulgent as to try and create another person simply to satisfy his own desires.

Eventually, as we know, Pinocchio figures it out. Dreams don't come true when you wish on a star, or try to take a self-serving shortcut: they only come true when you can tell right from wrong.

In today's world, morality is not at all abstract. It is the difference between selfishness and selflessness. Behaving in a moral fashion may hurt in the short-term, but in the long run it's the only way to avoid being exploited, to maintain a community, and to be truly human.

Be brave. Be truthful. Be unselfish.

It's the Wisconsin Idea.