Sunday, May 31, 2015

My thoughts on Wisconsin government and the impact on me, us

In January I wrote a post reflecting on my work in public education.  As I received news this week on the budget cuts and changes to UW System, I think back to this post.  Why are we in Wisconsin?  Why at UWM?  Why should I stay?

When I left ASU, I went into research and measurement consulting.  I quickly felt that this was just a job. and I was not making a difference in the world.  I missed teaching.  Then, I got a call from the chair of my old department at UWM asking if I would design and teach an online course for them in organizational communication.  I was very excited to jump back into the saddle.  Later, I realized I wanted to head back to academia where I could make an impact.

I am an exception.  I said that not has a mention of pride, but of my circumstance and path.  With no parents or siblings and little engaged family, I somehow made it through the front doors of UWM a couple decades ago.  With no money and questioning of life's purpose, I stumbled several times walking through my higher education, but I always got back up, brushed myself off, and continued on my path earning degrees.  More importantly, I was able to move myself, with the help of my higher education, beyond my circumstance.  My mother had no college education and was a secretary making close to minimum wage most of my life.  I now have an education (that no one can take away) and make a decent wage.  I can afford to feed myself and my family while keeping a roof over my head (for now) -- pretty basic stuff, but not something that everyone always has.  

I want to do the same for others.

Helping students

I am passionate about the mission of UWM and the Wisconsin Idea.  All human beings deserve opportunities that will allow them to move beyond their circumstances.  I have worked to do this inside and outside of the classroom in formal and informal ways.  My pedagogy reflects this and the mode in which I teach reflects this.  My efforts in the last decade to help other instructors make these choices for their students reflects this.  The work of many to help students achieve success through innovative programming, blended and online, reflects this.    

I see others many others in my UW network that are passionate about their work.  It is not a job, it is a part of their identity and who they are -- to support, to educate, and to learn.  They want to uplift the community.  They love UWM, they love Milwaukee (all of it), and they love Wisconsin.

The people

People ask me all the time why I came back to Milwaukee and Wisconsin. is the people.  We have amazing people here who value the important things - living life, relationships, helping each other, good times...just good people.  Milwaukee has a collectivist feel.  We look out for each other, even strangers.  Tend to focus little on our own personal accomplishments, but more the larger goal of uplifting the community and each other.    

I see my colleagues non-stop going above and beyond to help students, to connect to the community, and to make this a better place to live and learn.  Many of us have worked 40 hours before the latter half of the week comes.  We aren't even quite sure where our worklife and personal lives end.

And, we love an underdog.

Being valued

My value is not reflecting in my pay, but it is reflected in an institution and system that has invested in amazing individuals that are here to do great work.  The sum of these parts, of faculty and staff, result in a system that guides the path of future teachers, researchers, professionals, and community members in amazing ways.  A system that has principles, values, and philosophies that empower us to make decisions and to feel a sense of stability and safety.

This stability and security in benefits, indefinite status, and tenure, lets us know that we are valued in a time where salary increases are almost non-existent - when many are taking home less than they did years ago due to cuts and benefit changes.

So, what does all this mean with the new budget cuts (because we have been getting cut for years)?

Our ability to help move students beyond their circumstance will be challenged.  I don't know if I was 18 again and coming to UWM, I would be able to make the same strides.

Our ability to provide access to a quality education is in jeopardy. There will be less courses and less programs.  Star faculty and instructors that believed in me might no longer be here to challenge and support me.  They are being poached every day or seeking out a more stable institution that provides them security and values them and where they will have a say in decisions made.  If a course or program still exists, course sizes will be large, difficult to design and support with student-centered pedagogies.  Less blended and online courses will be offered - already app. 30% less this fall.  In a time where faculty are already teaching overloads, they will be now teaching even larger overloads (not even sure how that is possible).  Innovative programs will be stifled since there is no capacity. Access cannot be achieved.  We cannot complete our mission.

Our ability to create knowledge and develop future scholars is in jeopardy.  Research quality will decrease.  If teaching overloads with double the number of students, there will be less time to write grants and do quality research.  Researchers will large grants will leave for a place where their are secure and valued.  Graduate students are not being funded and more will probably lose funding.  Their assistance in research and their own personal growth as researchers will be hurt.  Overall, academia will have less quality scholars.  Those able to get a graduate education will be the affluent who can afford to lose funding, but still pursue a graduate degree.  That is if their graduate program hasn't been cut.  Again, we cannot complete our mission.

Our ability to develop our community is in jeopardy.  The array of programs offered will be greatly less.  We will be training a workforce rather than providing an education for a better community.  We will not be able to support the Wisconsin Idea.  We are at risk of becoming an employee production mill.  Of which, I am sure the big business owners of Wisconsin might be excited to see, but our communities will suffer.  Suffer in ways that can't be measured (says the quantitative researcher).  We are already seeing programs in the humanities cut across the state.  Who needs women's studies anyway?  We have such great gender equality in our society (note, sarcasm).  We cannot fulfill the Wisconsin Idea -- to improve people's lives beyond the classroom.

Our community is in jeopardy.  Many of us will have to relocate our families.  Many of us will lose their jobs in the coming year.  Yes, we will lose our jobs.  We can't simply go across town to another business or corporation to get a job.  We will have to relocate to different states with public institutions and governments that hopefully understand the value of a public higher education.  The rest of us that don't lose our jobs are feeling insecure.  We have no guarantees.  We voice.  On top of that, we are struggling financially.  Some people already can't pay their mortgages with the changes in retirement from a few years ago and lack of salary increase for years.  Now, we are being asked to pay even more towards are benefits with higher deductibles.  Once upon a time, the lower pay was okay because we had good benefits and a voice -- we could help others.  Now, we have nothing.  Now, we are hopeless.

I was thinking of saying some thing encouraging, but as of now, I have nothing to say...

No mistake though -- I love you UWM, Milwaukee, and Wisconsin.

I have no energy to talk about the K12 cuts, environmental cuts and changes...just sad.