Just the "Facts" on HR Design

October 2, 2012 | Blog

Yesterday’s Faculty Senate meeting at UW-Madison provided a wonderful illustration of how the cycle of widening economic inequality is regenerated through the actions of colleges and universities.

A Word Cloud Illustration of the Terms Contained in HR Design’s Strategic Plan Components.  Word size is relative to frequency in document. 

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the process leading to the prioritization of markets over equity as depicted above. (In case you can’t find it, “equity” is that tiny word hidden under “Job” on the left, above)

  1. Wisconsin’s conservative politicians slash investments in public higher education. This is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the reduction of human capital formation via public institutions.  The following steps are also required.
  2. Public colleges and universities struggle to respond. They have multiple options, one of which is to fight the disinvestment while protecting its most vulnerable programs, employees, and students, but instead they adopt a suggestion provided by fiscally conservative liberals: turn to the market for ideas and support!
  3. University administrators promote a new set of principles for the allocation of resources based on market rationales– efficiency, effectiveness, and performance! Of course equity will be preserved, they say, but that’s “up to you and your managers– the power is all yours and the devil is in the details!” Yep, sure is.
  4. These new principles and plans are developed “in collaboration” with the very few faculty, staff, and students who, in the midst of great economic and time constraints, are actually available for these discussions.  The “opportunity” for a new model is repeatedly emphasized as an inherently good thing, a wise thing, and one that will help us “help ourselves.” These discussions result in a set of stylized proposals resting on unquestioned assumptions.
  5. The plans are presented to “stakeholders.”  They are described as based on “facts” of unquestionable validity and declared “not part of an effort to corporatize the university.”  Such declarations are made without justification– but because stakeholders are insufficiently equipped to respond, time-constrained, exhausted from overwork, and accustomed to being ignored by the administration, few offered any questions.
  6. Thus, even the faculty– purportedly the best-educated stakeholders– sit quietly.  Unquestioning. No sifting and winnowing.  Happy to have someone else solve their “problems,” especially if it means money will soon enter their pockets.
  7. And with that, university administration has “engaged” its publics in the relevant discussions and can proceed with its plans.  It will pass the new agenda through all channels and deliver it, fully rubber-stamped, back to the gleeful Legislature.
  8. Thus, we in higher education have “helped ourselves.” 
  9. Fast forward 5 years:  in many units, the gap in pay between research staff employed in high-demand fields and those assisting with teaching and learning will have grown.  Substantial numbers of jobs will move from employee to contractor status, since the new system guarantees a living wage only to employees– not contractors– and as we know, living wages are expensive! The number of mid-level bureaucrats (managers) on campus will have doubled and increased their power, as they now control budgets through their special analyses of employees’ market value.  But it will be impossible to document all of these changes since the data will continue to be held in an administrative unit that decides how it displays results and is only required to respond to request from administrators, not employees. 

But don’t worry, folks, this isn’t corporatization.

And never fear, since shared governance will continue to reign.  If by that term, you mean that employees will have “input.”

Notes:

1. Bob Lavigna pronounced the HR plan “not corporatization” three times during yesterday’s Faculty Senate meeting.
2. While Lavigna said that shared governance meant “joint decision-making” (in response to a question I raised) the HR plan never mentions joint decision-making and instead mentions “input” 19 times.

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