THIS is What Shared Governance Looks Like!

November 6, 2012 | Blog

All over America, faculty, staff, and students are losing their collective voice as a tidal wave of “reform” washes over higher education. The adjunctification of the faculty is well underway and some administrators and members of the public cast faculty as the enemy of progress, despite hard empirical evidence to the contrary.

We’ve been confronting our own dilemmas at UW-Madison, where a deeply conservative Wisconsin legislature handed us the “tools” requested to bring efficiences to our human resources system.  It is indeed an old system, which insufficiently recognizes the needs of educational institutions, and it is indisputably in need of modernization.  The plans are in process to use the new flexibilities to improve the system, and today the Faculty Senate was to vote on those plans. The problem? The plans aren’t yet  fully articulated.  They are still in process, in a draft stage, and it’s hard to tell whether they really take UW-Madison forward– or backward.

A year or two ago I could’ve predicted the meeting’s outcome.  Under the thumb of a chancellor who not only misunderstood shared governance but deliberately squelched it, the Senate was rife with meek and silent professors.  Attending those meetings, I was awed by how many strong intelligent people could be rendered mute when confronted with the likes of Biddy Martin.

That was then, and this is now.  Biddy is gone, thanks to her inability to recognize the importance of institutional culture, and the people of the Senate are free. So in a remarkable turn of events, this afternoon the UW Madison Senate took decisive action to reject a push by the Administration for premature yet supposedly “time-sensitive” action and instead postpone a vote on the proposed Human Resources Design plan until the Administration reveals its full and revised plan.  By waiting until December 3 to vote on HR design, the Senators essentially said: “We’ll vote when we are shown what we are voting on.”

To some, this was stunning. Those are the folks who misunderstand shared governance at UW-Madison, falsely believing it is merely “advisory” and that ultimately the Chancellor decides.  Not so. Not at all.  In the coming weeks,  this will become a great subject of conversation on campus, since the Senate meeting revealed that key administrators among us do not understand Faculty Policies and Procedures as written in law.

The faculty, students, and staff care deeply about the future of this great university and recognize that key changes are needed to strengthen it.  HR Design is one of those things, and that’s why it’s worth taking the time to get it right.  We won’t be pushed into premature judgment, or told that we can only vote “now or never.”  The responsibility is too great. As Professor Chad Goldberg told the Senate today, “Our educational activities depend vitally on the contributions, well-being, and morale of all of the university’s employees, including faculty, academic staff, and classified staff. None of us built this university on our own. None of us can do our jobs without the help and support of others. When we succeed, we succeed because we work together.”

Today is what happens when faculty are equipped with Robert’s Rules, informed by a full discussion with all of the relevant parties, organized, prepared, and motivated.  Don’t worry– it wasn’t a one-time thing. This is how Senate will be going forward. Our work is cut out for us.

Next on the agenda:

(1) We expect that the UW Madison Administration will meet and engage with campus labor to reach an agreeable plan for moving forward.  I hope to see those meetings begin within 72 hours and continue until there is a reasonable solution.  If they do not, we’ll know there are larger problems at Madison– and we’ll make sure the community knows it.  I’m sure this won’t be necessary though, given Vice Chancellor Darrell Bazzell’s stated robust commitment to fair and equitable treatment of unions.

(2) We will work to educate and inform the full UW-Madison community of the meaning of shared governance as it exists here.  We have every right to vote on the plan as it is put together after the Chancellor’s approval.  We will do so, on December 3– and then the Board of Regents will know where we stand.  Whether or not they choose to ignore us, our rights and responsibilities on behalf of those who fought for and established FP&P will be intact. In that, at least, we can trust.

Tonight I stand in awe and in solidarity of my university tonight, and am deeply proud to call it home.  To Noah and Chad, Bruce and David and Judith and Pam, Charity, Robin and Eleni and Gary — all I can say is, “On Wisconsin.”

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