Tell Her About It

Monday, April 4, 2011
After more than two hours of sitting in small hard wooden chairs on this blustery Monday afternoon, Faculty Senate at UW-Madison finally got interesting. In the midst of a discussion led by (I kid you not) "Committee of the Whole Discussion of Fiscal Models for the Proposed Public Authority, and Institutional Governance and the Proposed Board of Trustees," Chancellor Biddy Martin appeared to have had enough.

She'd taken numerous questions from faculty who seemed uncertain about the implications of her proposed New Badger Partnership (including a series of questions proferred by yours truly), and seemed to have reached the end of her rope. Red-faced, she looked at the crowd of 100 or so, and said:

"I'm out there on my own on this one...Regents and chancellors are against it...If the faculty, staff, and students of UW-Madison aren't supportive [of the NBP] then it makes no sense for me to continue. I'm tired. I don't need to be out there on my own. You need to let me know if you aren't behind it."

I almost--almost--felt bad for the lady. After all, she's just trying to do what she was hired to do. It's not her fault that she's been setup to dismantle a wonderful, public institution and to make it appear the dismantling is due to financial constraints rather than a power grab by conservatives.

But I didn't feel bad, and here's why. Her seemingly honest desire for the airing of objections is offset by her actions. This is a chancellor who excludes, at least as often as she includes. She convenes small groups of powerful folks, and keeps the vast majority on the outside. She has hired and promoted people who pledge allegiance to her for fear of doing otherwise. She has managed to make people support her agendas even when they feel incredibly uncomfortable doing so. We're in a financial crisis and they need their jobs-- and love this university.

My guess? People won't share their objections to NBP with Biddy Martin. Not because the campus agrees with this move, but because, quite frankly, people are scared of her.

I know this for a fact because over the last three months I have received several dozen emails, text messages, phone calls, and even drop-in office visits from university colleagues who have told me they feel as I do but are unable to attach their names to these sentiments. I notice the same at the public forums where the chancellor is present-- hands shake when questions are asked, no one pushes further when a question isn't directly addressed. This, more than anything else, is destroying our campus. Morale is low, and faculty and administrators are afraid to speak their minds and oppose a proposal to fundamentally alter how our state's flagship university does business.

In fact that says it all. Folks, the NBP isn't about money at all. It's about power.

The silence is deafening.