9.3.16

FINANCING THEIR MERIT RAISES.

Labor markets are institutions of calculating commodification, except when they're not.

When the Wisconsin state government started changing tenure provisions, here's what I saw coming.  "At the University of Wisconsin's Madison campus, even the rumblings of modified tenure are enough to get the research stars testing the job market."

So they are, dear reader, and it's concentrating minds on Bascom Hill.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison last semester gave out $726,436 in raises and $8 million in research support to retain 40 top faculty members competing universities tried to lure away, according to information obtained by the Journal Sentinel through an open records request.
Much of that money is available because sponsored research grants include funds for "indirect cost recovery" which you might understand as covering overhead such as administrative expenses and capital equipment, or which you might interpret as a further subsidy to higher education.  (There is also indirect cost recovery in military procurement, which is how we come up with hundred-dollar hammers and thousand-dollar toilet seats.)

But the use of the indirect cost recovery funds to keep the grant-getting faculty on faculty (when they leave, under many circumstances, the grants go with them) are not sitting well with the journeymen.
But the $8.72 million investment in 40 faculty members won't help morale among the rest of the faculty, said Anna Haley-Lock, an associate professor of social work who is leaving for Rutgers. She was among six faculty members listed as receiving retention offers but deciding to leave, though she said she did not seek a retention offer.

"I find it disappointing there's this big focus on targeted retention," Haley-Lock said. "It's about how to retain superstars instead of the importance of making all faculty feel valued and protected."
Labor markets are institutions of calculating commodification. Professor Haley Lock doesn't like that.  Neither does Sara Goldrick-Rab.
Since 2008, UW’s administrators have been more concerned with preserving status at any cost, and are outright skeptical that price matters much for Wisconsin’s (increasingly strapped) families. They just adopted a new discriminatory admissions application, and are urging faculty to disregard true tenure in favor of retention bonuses. This is not the UW I chose to become part of.

Even worse, this is now a place where outspoken faculty like myself are treated without even a modicum of respect. When we dare to sift and winnow we are chastised, castigated, and shunned quietly and covertly, while leadership continues to assert its commitments to tolerance. Believe me, nothing is ever wrong at UW-Madison. We are all “just fine.” Everyone is nice, as long as you are too. In other words, just chew your cud contently and keep your mouth shut.
It came to administrative usurpation and chastisement and castigation and shunning a long time ago.

Wisconsin's administrators, however, might be rationally responding to the U.S. News phenomenon.
It can be hard to act justly while on the payroll of a public flagship that places a higher priority on prestige (e.g. meaning non-residents and high test scores) and Big 10 football than on access and affordability. I’ve tried to distance myself from that aura of Madison while attempting to get close to the students of Milwaukee, who struggle mightily in under-resourced colleges and universities while UW-Madison continues to hoard state funding and increase its emphasis on merit aid. Staying close to people like Nancy Kendall, Chad Goldberg, Dave Vanness, Dang Chongwerawong, Bill Tracy, and Noel Radomski helped. Spending time at our sister campuses around the state, especially in Milwaukee, preserved my faith that things might possibly improve. But it became too difficult to focus on and advance my work on college affordability in a context where critique of existing institutional and political approaches is not only unwelcome, but outright attacked.
Milwaukee, and Temple, where Ms Goldrick-Rab is joining faculty, are ultimately in the same business as Madison, or Penn State, or Villanova, and will have to confront that reality as well.

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