Can UW System President Ray Cross Be Trusted (To Resign)?

Today University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross returns to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus for a meeting of the UW Board of Regents,  his first public appearance there since March 25, when he joined UWM Chancellor Mark Mone at an open budget forum. At that forum, in response to a question I posed, President Cross pledged to resign his position if he failed both to secure a “substantial reduction” in the $300 million budget cuts proposed by Governor Scott Walker and to protect tenure, shared governance, and academic freedom for the entire UW System. After months of hearings, deliberations, and much back-door lobbying, the Joint Finance Committee of the Wisconsin Legislature passed an omnibus motion dealing with these and other UW-related issues. Although the JFC motion rejected most of Governor Walker’s proposals for the UW System, it did impose a draconian budget cut of $250 million on the University System. More tellingly, however, the JFC went out of its way to eviscerate tenure protections and shared governance. As a man of honor, Ray Cross must now surely resign his presidency.

Is it possible that President Cross is not a man of honor, a man whose word can be trusted as his bond? Is it possible that he has not been dealing honestly and fairly with the faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the University of Wisconsin System?  Immediately after the JFC motion was passed on Friday, President Cross issued a statement thanking the committee for the “significant reduction” in the budget cuts. Clearly the pledge he had made to resign was on his mind. But as I tweeted to him at 2:09 pm, in response to his public statement, “Be a man of your word, @RayWCross. You have failed to bring about a ‘substantial reduction’ in the budget cuts.” Not accidentally, when he and incoming Regents chair Regina Millner issued a joint statement later that afternoon about how they would act immediately to reinstate tenure into Board policy, they described the JFC reduction in Governor Walker’s budget cuts not as “significant,” but as “substantial,” echoing the exact language I had used on March 25 in asking President Cross to make his pledge. To my mind this is not honorable, but legalistic, behavior, which seems to indicate that he has no intention to keep his word and honor his pledge to resign.

But how could anyone objectively call the imposition of a $250 million budget cut a “substantial reduction?” When you add the “costs to continue” to the $250 million cut, you pretty much end up with the original $300 million proposed by the governor.  And remember that as recently as 6 months ago President Cross was telling his chancellors to prepare requests for a $93 million increase in funding from the state. A rational person could only conclude that reducing the cuts from $300 million to $250 million is at best “trimming” or “paring” the cuts, to quote headlines of local newspaper articles about the JFC’s omnibus motion. A substantial reduction would have been reducing the cuts to zero, as was done for the K-12 budget, or perhaps, one might argue, cutting Governor Walker’s proposed cuts by half or even more.

Furthermore, with tenure removed from state law, but detailed and unprecedented new procedures for firing tenured faculty introduced (cf. S39 of the Omnibus Motion), and with the language of shared governance revised to specify that such governance can only be “subordinate” to the Chancellor of each unit, a reasonable and honorable person can have no choice but to conclude that President Cross has pretty much failed on all counts to do what he pledged to do, or else resign.

How does President Cross not understand this? Or does he? Is his will to power so great that he will risk his word to maintain his position? Did he perhaps get confused at that UWM budget meeting on March 25 and think that he had pledge to “protect” the budget cuts and to bring about a “substantial reduction” in tenure, shared governance, and academic freedom?

If Ray W. Cross does not now resign as UW System President, he runs the risk of being taken as a man who does not honor his word and who will most likely never again be able to be trusted by faculty, staff, students, or alumni of the University of Wisconsin System. In the future, how could any reasonable person believe any promises or assurances that he might make? Leadership in the public sphere is based almost entirely on trust. If President Cross fails to honor his pledge to resign he will have lost any meaningful trust that anyone could have in him.

Which do you value more highly, President Cross, your honor or your job?

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About rgrusin

I am an Academic Entrepreneur and Professor of English at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
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