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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First Amendment Intimidation by UW-Milwaukee Administration

[NB: Below is the text of a letter I sent today to UWM Chancellor Mark Mone, protesting the intimidation of my first amendment rights to free speech by two UWM police officers.]


June 2, 2015

Mark Mone, Chancellor
Chapman Hall 202
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Milwaukee, WI 53201

Dear Chancellor Mone,

I write to protest in the strongest possible terms an act of intimidation carried out this afternoon by two members of the UWM Police Department on behalf of the UWM administration. Not only did this police action constitute a gross misuse of UWM resources, but it also committed an actionable violation of my first amendment rights to free speech.

When I returned to my office in Curtin Hall this afternoon, from an emergency meeting of the Faculty Senate, I was surprised to find two armed, uniformed UWM police officers waiting for me. They asked to talk to me in my office. The purpose of their visit was to investigate a tweet I had written in response to a blog post by my UWM faculty colleague Rachel Buff. The tweet, which is copied at the end of this letter, read: “A heartfelt plea for solidarity from @rachelidatweets. But methinks unions aren’t enough. Armed insurrection, anyone?”
The lead officer, Lieutenant John Krusick, told me that because the Board of Regents was meeting on campus on Thursday and Friday, the administration was concerned that I might be planning some kind of intervention (an “armed insurrection?”). Lt. Krusick said that he knew I was “passionate” about what’s been happening to the UW System lately (he had a whole pile of printed tweets in his hand, although he only showed me the offending one), and that the officers had been asked to check up on me to make sure I wasn’t planning anything that might endanger the meeting of the Board of Regents. He likened this to a situation where a student might say or post on social media something threatening to his professor, which would prompt the campus police to speak with the student.

I should not have to tell an educated academic like yourself how faulty this analogy is. My tweet was written in response to a colleague’s blog post about solidarity, and the “Armed insurrection, anyone?” was clearly light-hearted wordplay on the common expression, “Tennis, anyone?” That this tweet could be construed as a threat, or to whom it might be threatening, is beyond me. The only threat involved in this situation was by the UWM campus police, and by extension your administration, against me. The message was clearly meant to deter me from exercising my right to free speech: we are watching you, so you better watch what you say.

Indeed, what is most troubling about the event was not the interaction with the two UWM police officers, who behaved professionally and politely, but the fact that someone in your administration appears to be closely monitoring my social media activities. In addition to monitoring my public speech, someone in your administration is concerned enough about my “passionate” opposition to the destruction of tenure, shared governance, and academic freedom that they wanted to send me a message of intimidation.

Sadly, I have over the past several months been cautioned by colleagues, friends, and family to be careful about speaking out against your administration and the UW System. But I have repeatedly insisted that neither you nor President Cross would seek retribution against me merely for speaking my mind against policies which you both support. I hope I am right. But it is a sad state of affairs that people who care about me feel motivated to warn me about passionately expressing my opinions. Their concern about my welfare speaks volumes about how both your administration and the University of Wisconsin System are currently perceived.

I would encourage you to keep monitoring my tweets and Facebook updates. You might not like what you read, but you might learn something. I will be posting a copy of this letter on social media, and if necessary I am prepared to share it with an attorney. I will not allow myself to be intimidated from continuing to criticize the ongoing destruction of a great public university system and your unwillingness to say or do anything to try to stop it.


Richard Grusin
Professor of English
Director, Center for 21st Century Studies

Armed Insurection Tweet

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Foxes in the Henhouse: The Republican Takeover of the University of Wisconsin System

Friday, May 29, 2015, will go down as a dark day in the history of the University of Wisconsin System. On that day the Joint Finance Committee of the Wisconsin Legislature issued its Omnibus Spending Motion for the University of Wisconsin System. This motion would get rid of Scott Walker’s proposal to make the System a public authority; restore most of Chapter 36, which governs the UW System, to state statute; and “reduce” Walker’s proposed $300 million budget cut to a still draconian $250 million. Despite the words of gratitude pouring from the mouths of UW leaders in response to this “reduction,” we need to make one thing perfectly clear. The Joint Finance Committee did not “reduce” a budget cut to the UW System, it “imposed” a $250 million budget cut on the System. As evidenced in its decision to undo Walker’s proposed cut to K-12 education, the JFC had within its purview to do the same for the UW System.

Even more maliciously than cutting the UW budget, the JFC motion weakens shared governance in fundamental ways, most notably in redefining such governance as explicitly “subordinate” to campus chancellors. And in perhaps the most bizarre, but also the most directly anti-faculty, move, the JFC motion eliminates tenure from state law at precisely the same time that it would institute into statute detailed procedures for justifying and implementing the firing of tenured faculty for other than cause or financial emergency (this latter move was made in the event that the Board of Regents reinstate, as its leaders claim it will, some diminished form of tenure at its June 4-5 meeting in Milwaukee). With one omnibus motion the Joint Finance Committee levied a huge budget cut on the UW System, eliminated tenure, made it easier for tenured faculty to be fired, and weakened dramatically faculty, staff, and student roles in shared governance.

Pretty much lost in the shock of this catastrophic devastation wreaked upon the UW System was the way in which Friday’s JFC motion further institutionalizes the restructuring of the relationship between the governing Republican party and the UW System. It is hardly an accident that in the midst of this assault on the UW System, key UW leaders and members of the Board of Regents were careful to make one very similar point: that the JFC’s actions signaled a “new relationship” between the university and state government. In relatively quick succession over the course of Friday afternoon, System President Ray Cross, Regent Vice-President Rebecca Millner, and Regent President Mike Falbo issued official statements underscoring the new relationship between the UW System and the Republican-controlled legislature.

  • First Cross: “I know this has been a difficult budget with many tough decisions. The work of the committee illustrates a willingness to open a new dialogue and partnership between the legislature and the UW System. I am committed to working to build on this foundation to ensure a strong UW System for the future that continues our long tradition of serving students, communities and the state.”
  • Next Cross and Millner together: “Overall, we are pleased with the substantial reduction of our budget cut and the provision of additional flexibilities, and we are confident our new partnership with the legislature is focused on the future.”
  • Finally, Falbo, whose authoritarian worldview lays out most fully and most obsequiously the terms of this new “partnership”: “We appreciate the Joint Finance Committee’s action today and the spirit of collaboration we have developed with its members and the legislature. With President Cross’s leadership, this new sense of partnership has helped us get to where we are today. It has also set a new standard and tone for how we can best serve our students, our institutions, the state and taxpayers in the future. This renewed commitment to work together will get results and lead to a stronger university that is even more aligned with the needs of Wisconsin.”

In the unlikely event, reader, that you might still be convinced by these lockstep statements of gratitude that this new relationship was indeed a partnership among equals, you should be disabused by a look at how the Chancellors of the UW’s only two doctoral-granting research universities were also compelled to defer to the authority of the ruling political class in Wisconsin. Like the statements of Cross, Millner, and Falbo, the uncanny similarity between the statements of gratitude by Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone makes it clear that they are reading from the same page.

  • First Blank: “The Joint Committee on Finance was presented with a very difficult budget. We appreciate the members’ willingness to work with us to make the proposed cuts less challenging for the university. We are grateful that the committee was able to reduce the cut by $50 million and provide funding to cover increased fringe benefit costs. The steps toward flexibilities in procurement and building projects proposed by the Joint Finance Committee are welcome and should allow us to function more efficiently.”
  • Now Mone: “We appreciate the willingness of the Joint Finance Committee to reduce the size of the cut and to provide additional funding for the costs of fringe benefits to our employees. It is also our hope that the flexibilities provided in the budget bill by the Committee will benefit us in coming years.”

It is surely impossible to believe from the nearly identical phrasing of these official statements that these are the thoughts and words of independent academic leaders, whose positions put them at the pinnacle of shared governance on their campus to represent the combined interests of their university’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Rather these are the statements of Republican functionaries showing their “subordination” to their leaders in Madison. From the Walker-appointed Board of Regents to the Regent-appointed System President to the President-appointed Chancellors, the daisy-chain of Republican power now extends to every campus in the University of Wisconsin System.

This extension of state government into the ranks of campus administration represents a dangerous restructuring of the traditional historical separation of political and academic interests. In the not-so-distant past, the System President, and especially the Chancellors, represented the academic interests of their campuses, serving as the highest spokesmen for shared campus governance among faculty, staff, students, and academic administrators, who were historically drawn from the ranks of faculty. This new relationship between the UW System and the ruling Republican party has now eroded whatever remaining distance there was between state government and state universities, turning the university itself into an agent of the Republican party.

Thanks to a secret pact with their Republican overlords in Madison, the leaders of the University of Wisconsin System have now relocated the increasingly hierarchical relationship between politics and the academy into the very structure of the university. Under the “new partnership” touted by Falbo, Millner, and Cross, the system president and the chancellor no longer represent the interests of shared governance to the government, but rather carry out the wishes of the government as administrators of top-down, not bottom-up or shared, governance.

In the spirit of George Orwell, here are three slogans the University of Wisconsin System might use to describe its “new partnership” with the Republican party: academic freedom is slavery; shared governance is subordination; and tenure is the right to be fired.

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“Ave Atque Vale”

At the end of this summer I will step down from my position as director of the Center for 21st Century Studies to become a full-time professor at UWM. For both personal and professional reasons I have been considering this move for more than a year. Indeed last spring I was on the verge of deciding to end my directorship. But a series of intellectually rewarding C21-related events–the Anthropocene Feminism conference; the annual conference of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes in Hong Kong; an eye-opening three-day visit by a contingent of Consortium advisory board members to universities in Shenzhen and Guangdong; an extraordinary group of C21 fellows for this past year’s seminars–persuaded me that the directorship of the Center was too good a gig to give up. Sadly the intensified assault on higher education in Wisconsin over the past four months (by Republican politicians as well as UWM and University System administrators) has proved to be the tipping point to convince me that this is no longer the case.

In 2010 when I was hired to direct C21, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was still deeply committed to supporting research and scholarship in the humanities, even research that did not directly generate revenue. The Center for 21st Century Studies had a robust staff and ongoing budgetary lines to provide annual support for seven internal fellows, one UW System fellow, and a post-doc, all of whom met in biweekly seminars along with the director, deputy director, and assistant director. The Center also had the funding to bring in a half-dozen or so invited speakers each semester and to stage an annual conference, out of which a book of essays would customarily be published, the latest of which is our Minnesota Press volume on The Nonhuman Turn.

On a campus where academic departments have very little money to bring in their own speakers and where opportunities for release time to work on one’s scholarship were scarce, the Center has played a crucial role in fostering research and creating an intellectual life in the humanities and humanistic social sciences on campus. For the past five years I am proud of the way we have done just that, and even perhaps a little more. I am especially proud of our four annual spring conferences–The Nonhuman Turn (2012), The Dark Side of the Digital (2013), Anthropocene Feminism (2014), and After Extinction (2015)–which have helped shape interdisciplinary scholarly discourse in the humanities not only at UWM but nationally and internationally.

Unfortunately it has become apparent that in the current budgetary climate the UW-Milwaukee administration is no longer willing or able to provide the same level of support for humanities scholarship that it had when I was hired in 2010. Earlier this semester C21 was forced to cancel its national search for a post-doctoral fellow when our Provost withdrew his support for that position. Last month I was invited via Outlook to a meeting with the Dean of Letters and Science and interim VP for Research, at which I was handed a revised budget for the coming year, which represented a roughly 33% cut in our support for fellows, programming, and general operating expenses. It is highly unlikely that these cuts will be restored in the foreseeable future.

The result of these cuts was not trivial: they reduced our internal UWM fellows from seven to five (resulting in the embarrassing situation of the L&S Dean having to rescind the Center’s offer to two of next year’s fellows); cut our graduate student assistants from two to one; and reduced funding for invited speakers, our annual conference, and everything else by one-third. On top of this severe cut the Center has not been given (and is unlikely to receive) permission to replace its full-time deputy director, who has taken a similar position at the humanities center in Madison, where she lives. In addition to reducing the college’s salary support for the Center’s administrative staff by nearly 40%, cutting the deputy director eliminates the Center’s highest-ranked full-time employee, the person responsible not only for administering the Center but also for working closely with the director in setting C21’s intellectual and programmatic agenda.

As damaging as these cuts are to the Center’s future prospects, they would not have led me to step down as director if I had not already been seriously considering it. Beginning in 1993, when I became director of undergraduate studies in the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at Georgia Tech, I have spent 18 of the past 22 years in administrative positions, including two stints as department chair (three years at Georgia Tech and seven at Wayne State) and now five years as director of C21. In that time I have rarely had the luxury of a summer off for research and revitalization–two of those four summers off involved moving jobs and cities–from Atlanta to Detroit in 2001 and from Detroit to Milwaukee in 2010. In 2016-17 I will be eligible for the first sabbatical of my more than 30-year career as a faculty member. After 18 years helping to administer two large departments and running a substantive interdisciplinary humanities center, I am ready to turn the bulk of my energy and imagination to supporting my own teaching and research.

For the time being C21 will continue with a new director, chosen from among our talented, if dramatically underpaid, humanities faculty. I look forward to supporting the new director as I can and to seeing how the Center evolves in response to the new budgetary landscape in which we are living. My time as director has been extraordinarily rewarding. I have enjoyed mentoring my junior colleagues and creating a collegial and welcoming intellectual atmosphere for new kinds of thinking and dialogue. As I move forward into the last decade or so of my career, I hope to be able to continue doing so by other, less formally institutional means–both for my colleagues and for myself. I leave the directorship of the Center for 21st Century Studies with some sadness but no regrets. And I look forward to providing myself with the kind of time and space to think and write that the Center has been offering UWM faculty and visiting fellows for more than forty years.

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Scott Walker’s Fear of Free Speech

“I used to be a little boy / So old in my shoes / And what I choose is my voice / What’s a boy supposed to do?” –Billy Corgan, “Disarm”

I woke up on Good Friday to learn that my governor, Scott Walker, the most powerful man in the state of Wisconsin, had implicitly accused me, a tenured professor of English and Director of the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, of holding a gun to the head of University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross and other University of Wisconsin administrators. Given that, unlike the majority of Wisconsin Republicans, I do not now nor ever have owned a gun, this accusation came as something of a surprise.

“’I think it’s unfortunate,’ Walker said of UW System president Ray Cross saying he would resign if tenure and shared faculty governance are eliminated. ‘This is exactly why you need to have these reforms and why you shouldn’t be able to have the faculty have a gun to the head of chancellors and administrators.’”

Walker’s Maundy Thursday comment on the Charlie Sykes radio show referred (at about the 29:00 mark) to a question I posed Ray Cross at an open forum at UW-Milwaukee on March 25. I had asked Cross whether he was prepared to pledge to resign as UW System President if he was unsuccessful in substantially reducing the proposed $300 million in budget cuts and preserving tenure and shared governance for University of Wisconsin campuses. To my surprise, and the surprise of everyone in the audience, Cross gave a one-word answer: “Yes.” Despite protestations from UW Board of Regents President Mike Falbo that the question was an unfair attack, Cross quickly insisted that there was nothing personal about it, but that it was part of the customary forms of debate and dialogue that occur every day in the university. Clearly Ray Cross did not feel as if I had a gun to his head.

But Governor Walker thinks differently, and his remarks prove why tenure, shared governance, and academic freedom are essential to the functioning of higher education in the United States. One might object that he was not speaking literally, but metaphorically. Indeed later in the interview with Sykes he referred again to the gun, but qualified it as speaking figuratively. I’m an English professor. I get figurative language. But Walker’s metaphorical pattern of equating free speech with violence is not new. In New Hampshire in February, Walker infamously equated Madison protesters in 2011 with Islamic terrorists, telling his fellow Republicans at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February that because he had weathered the 2011 protests he had all the experience he needed to address ISIS if he were president. “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe.” And just as Walker likened the constitutional rights of free speech and peaceful assembly to acts of terror, so here he has likened a faculty member’s asking a question of a university system administrator to holding a gun to his head.

Because in my household Good Friday was celebrated this year on the same day that Passover began, the effect of being threatened by our state’s pharaoh–I mean, governor–was intensified. For make no mistake. Likening the 2011 protesters to Islamic terrorists threatened future protesters who might seek to demonstrate against this year’s punitive budget cuts to the university system, K-12 education, the Department of Natural Resources, and other public institutions. By contending that my freedom to question our System president about his commitment to tenure and shared governance was equivalent to holding a gun to his head proved that tenure must be reformed, Governor Walker proved just the opposite. Equating a question with holding a gun to someone’s head may be metaphorical, but Walker’s threat to my job security, and that of any other University of Wisconsin faculty who dare to question our administrators, is literal and quite real.

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The University of Wisconsin System “Differend” or “Regentsplained” Again (I Don’t Like It)

“Strange voice on the telephone / Tellin’ me I better leave you ‘lone / Why won’t somebody say what’s goin’ on / Oh, oh, I think I’ve been through this before // Looks like I’ve been fooled again / Looks like I’m the fool again / I don’t like it, I don’t like it” –Tom Petty

When I returned home yesterday from a very productive weekend at the annual conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (fortunately UW-Milwaukee still considers presenting at an academic conference to be “essential travel”), I found an email from Regina Millner, Vice-President of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, asking me if I was available for a phone conversation with her. This morning I called her. At first she suggested that we find a time to meet in Milwaukee in the next week or two, as she would be coming to UWM to meet with our Academic Staff Association. But before booting up my Outlook Calendar, I asked her what kind of outcome she was looking for from such a conversation, as I had no official position in the UWM governance structure and couldn’t really effect institutional change. She said that she just wanted to “explain” some things to me about the political background for state-supported education in Wisconsin. And we were off. We had a cordial, at times mutually passionate, conversation which lasted for roughly an hour, a good portion of which was taken up by what can best be understood as a variant of “mansplaining” that I would call “Regentsplaining.”

From our conversation it became clear to me that Regent Millner is genuinely committed to the well-being of the University of Wisconsin System and to maintaining its quality. I learned that her father was a professor, and that she began her career as a teacher before eventually going to law school. She assured me that she was committed as I was to tenure and shared governance. But she felt that she needed to explain to me, particularly since I had only moved to Wisconsin in 2010, how the state had gotten itself into a situation where its commitments to higher education were being pressured by the shift in the last century under the Thompson administration to more state support of K-12 education (and, she didn’t add, to “parental school-choice,” aka vouchers). Because of this, and other important commitments, available resources for the University System, she explained, were being stretched thinner than they once were.

But what also became clear was that she and I have radically different visions of what constitutes the well-being of the University of Wisconsin System and how it might be preserved and protected. Through the course of our conversation it became increasingly clear to me that in the current situation in Wisconsin we find ourselves in what French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard called “a differend,” “a case of conflict between parties that cannot be equitably resolved for lack of a rule of judgement applicable to both. In the case of a differend, the parties cannot agree on a rule or criterion by which their dispute might be decided. A differend is opposed to a litigation – a dispute which can be equitably resolved because the parties involved can agree on a rule of judgement.” Despite all parties–Regents, chancellors, faculty, staff, students, and alumni–being committed to the well-being of the University of Wisconsin System, it seems impossible to agree upon a rule of judgment or any set of criteria by which to adjudicate our different visions of what that well-being would look like.

Regent Millner, like the Republican administration in Wisconsin and most of the UW System’s chancellors and Regents, is firmly committed to a vision of the university as job preparation–not just to first jobs, she wanted to assure me, but to teaching students to be able to learn and be “flexible” to respond to changes in technology and other conditions which would undoubtedly require them to retrain themselves for the workplace. She is also deeply committed to understanding the university as a business or corporation, which needs “to maintain our quality product” at an “affordable” price so that consumers (what I would call students) continue to purchase it.

Through the course of our conversation she simultaneously and contradictorily insisted both upon the realpolitik of Madison, where the Republicans are more strongly in control than they have ever been (“thanks to your recall”) and upon the belief that, despite what I may think, the world is not divided up between red and blue. She believes strongly that the public and the legislature are against the University system and the faculty. Yet she provided only anecdotal evidence in support of this belief, telling me that even her son, a small business owner, thought that faculty were the problem, that they didn’t work hard enough and had too much job security and too many state-funded benefits. We have all heard this kind of thing before. It’s what could be called “governing by anecdote.”

Regent Millner claimed that the revision of the Wisconsin Idea was a bad mistake. It was, she said, a “stupid idea” to try to change it. She told me that she was there in those discussions, and she assured me that it wasn’t the Governor’s idea (she didn’t say who came up with the idea, presumably Speaker Robin Vos or Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald).

Regarding the budget cuts (which she described as “draconian,” although I don’t know if that was her belief or if she was quoting me), she explained to me that there will be cuts, hopefully smaller ones, and there may not be a public authority. She was less clear about how tenure and shared governance, which she claims to support, will fare. She explained that she likes the vagueness of the public authority (and the Chapter 36 language about shared governance) because it allows it to be implemented differently on the ground for different institutions. In explaining this she used the language of “honoring” the differences among institutions. I pointed out that I was not interested in having those differences “honored” as an act of noblesse oblige, but rather determined by the faculty and staff of each institution. She claimed that this was what she meant.

But I could see the “differend” in operation in relation to several suggestions I made that Regent Millner refused to accept or even take up, as if she could not even entertain them as legitimate options. The first of these, which I made two or three times, was the claim that the budget crisis the state was faced with was a manufactured one, which had been generated by irresponsible tax cuts that the state was unable to afford. She simply refrained from addressing my suggestions that the crisis could be ameliorated by returning the state to the level of taxation that was in place when Walker was elected in 2010 and by accepting more than $300 million in federal money from the Affordable Care Act.

She also resisted my suggestion that the Regents speak out more vocally against the cuts and on behalf of faculty and the university. I asked her to imagine how powerful it would be if all of the Walker-appointed Regents joined together to make a strong statement against the cuts, for the protections of Chapter 36, and in favor of increasing revenue by returning to 2010 tax levels. She indicated that doing so would have only a negative effect in the legislature. “Actions speak louder than words,” she said her mother told her. “Talk is cheap.” I decided not to go into explaining speech-act theory, which argues strongly and persuasively that words are actions.

Regent Millner resisted as well the call in our open letter to Ray Cross for a two-year moratorium on the public authority, so that there could be a thorough, transparent, and broad-based study of the transition to a public authority. Despite acknowledging that the Walker budget did not even attempt to figure in the costs of a transition to “what we asked to do” in seeking a public authority, she dismissed the idea of such a study because it wouldn’t be the kind of “blue-ribbon” commission that originally created the system, but would be stacked with people who would do the bidding of the legislature.

But most troubling to me about the whole conversation, and what helped explain to me why it was that she wanted to talk with me in the first place, was the suggestion that I (or perhaps more specifically the question I had asked of Ray Cross) was responsible for derailing (or at least setting back) the excellent progress that Cross, the Regents, and others had been making in private meetings with members of the state Legislature. Indeed one of the first things she said in our conversation was that after “last Wednesday,” the day Ray Cross visited UW-Milwaukee, things at the legislature had been “inflamed.” And later on in our conversation she returned to the claim that things had been going along quite well in discussions with the legislature until last Wednesday.

Thus before we ended our conversation I told her directly that I was disturbed by her implication that somehow I was at fault for sabotaging the excellent progress that the Regents and President Cross had made behind closed doors, and that I was not willing to be made into a scapegoat for the loss of tenure and shared governance. When I pointed out that if indeed things had changed for the worse after “last Wednesday,” it wasn’t because I had asked Ray Cross if he would be prepared to pledge to resign if he failed to obtain a substantial reduction in the budget and preserve the academic protections written into Chapter 36, but because he answered in the affirmative that he would, she again refrained from responding.

Although our conversation ended cordially, her implication, and perhaps her motivation for “regentsplaining” me in the first place, seemed clear–to warn me, if only implicitly, that I ran the risk of further damaging the situation if I continued to speak out. I assured her that all of the power was on the side of the Regents and the Republican majority, that all I had was my voice, and that I was not prepared to be silenced. Although she ended by hoping we might have a chance to meet some time in person in Milwaukee, we did not make an appointment to do so.

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Question to Ray Cross

At the open meeting with UW System President Ray Cross, held at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Wednesday, March 25, 2015, I asked Ray Cross a question from the following text.  SPOILER ALERT: He answered, “Yes.”


Hello, President Cross. My name is Richard Grusin. I am Director of the Center for 21st Century Studies and Professor of English at UW-Milwaukee. I want to thank you for coming to UWM to hear our concerns. My remarks will be blunt and direct, among other reasons to underscore the fierce urgency of the crisis we face, which threatens the livelihood of thousands of UW System employees and the educational quality of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin students.

I have only one simple question, albeit with a substantive preamble.

Given that, as early as January 4, 2015, you called a special meeting of the UW System Faculty Representatives to warn them that there was a grave threat to Chapter 36 in the upcoming legislative session and the only way to save tenure and shared governance was for you to make a deal with the state’s Republican leadership;

Given that, by the end of January the citizens of Wisconsin finally got to see the deal you had negotiated: accepting a $300+ million budget cut in exchange for establishing a new University System public authority, without any serious economic study either of the costs of a transition or the size of the benefits a public authority might yield;

Given that, by the end of February nearly 500 UW System faculty, staff, students, and alumni had signed an open letter demanding you to call for a 2-year moratorium on the conversion to public authority and the $300 million budget cuts that had been offered along with the public authority;

Given that, at the end of March, there now seems to be little support for your public authority, whether among UW faculty, staff, students, and alumni, the Board of Regents, or the Republican legislature;

Given that what we are now left with is a proposed $300+ million in cuts to the UW System budget and the almost wholesale repeal of Chapter 36, including all of the academic protections–such as tenure, shared governance, employment protection, or academic freedom–which are fundamental to public university systems across the country;

Given your repeated assurances, today and in the past, that you support and will do everything you can to preserve (or even strengthen) the academic protections of Chapter 36 currently slated to be repealed by the Governor’s budget;

Given all of this, my question is: Will you pledge here today that, if you fail to secure a substantial reduction in the proposed budget cuts, and if you prove unable to protect tenure, shared governance, and academic freedom for all University of Wisconsin universities and colleges–will you pledge here today to resign your position as President of the University of Wisconsin System?

Thank you.

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