December 12, 2006

A new phase in the university-legislature relationship.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that that Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, will be the new head of the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee. Nass was the most conspicuous critic of the UW's decision to hire (and not fire) 9/11 conspiracy theorist Kevin Barrett. Nass admits he's been critical of the University:
"But when I go to the taxpayers who are funding the university to the tune of a billion dollars a year . . . with issues of accountability, double-dipping, backup jobs, felons in the classroom - these are all legitimate issues that taxpayers expect me to deal with."

Still, Nass said, he was hopeful the Legislature and the university could work together....

The System's Board of Regents delayed action last week on a proposal that would change admissions policy to give greater emphasis to nonacademic factors such as race and income. Nass had asked for the delay, threatening a constitutional amendment to ban race from being considered in the admissions process without changes to the policy. The issue could be the first test of the relationship.
I hope we can get along!

ADDED: Nass has also talked about amending the Wisconsin constitution to ban affirmative action, and today's Cap Times has an opinion piece on the subject by UW emeritus econ prof W. Lee Hansen:
A statewide poll several years ago showed 84 percent of respondents opposed "the use of race and ethnic preferences in determining who should be admitted to the University of Wisconsin." The opposition ran deep, with 77 percent of minority respondents and 76 percent of Democrats opposing race and ethnic preferences....

Increasingly desperate actions have fueled public skepticism of efforts to increase diversity here in Wisconsin. The latest include adopting a "holistic" approach to campus admissions decisions for the avowed purpose of increasing minority enrollment and launching the Orwellian Think Respect program at UW-Madison to make the campus climate more welcoming to minorities.
Hansen ends on what I consider an ugly note, and perhaps the Cap Times published this precisely because it might be offputting enough to increase support for affirmative action. My main point with this post is to flag the fact that Nass is in and the amendment may be in the offing.

13 comments:

the pooka said...

Yikes.

Then again, this could be very good for UW-Whitewater...

Anonymous said...

Mr. Nass hopes to be the next Governor of Wisconsin, I assume.

Mike said...

Call me a cynic, but I doubt there is any chance for a constructive relationship. I don't know anything about Nass, but unless he's an atypical politican, this won't be about improving the University. It will be about bashing the UW to further his political career.

Roger Sweeny said...

Hansen ends his piece,

When will UW System leaders finally recognize their Band-Aid approach fails to deal with the root cause of low minority achievement?

Until minorities can create a culture of learning in their communities, families and children, diversity programs can do little to help achieve the world of equal educational opportunity we all support.

That may be ugly. Alas, it is true.

For the past 40 years, we've tried not to say ugly things. It's bad manners. It's blaming the victim. White people have screwed black people for 3 centuries; so they shouldn't say anything that seems to get them off the hook.

But the result has been the continuing white-black disparity that we feel so bad about but refuse to talk honestly about.

Eli Blake said...

Don't feel bad. Here in Arizona, our K-12 teachers are next to last in pay in the country (ahead of only Montana), and there are still legislators who think they are overpaid.

My own (Arizona) state senator (Jake Flake-- yes, that's his real name) once said that being a teacher is a 'great part-time job.' He also suggested that if teachers wanted more money then they could build ranch fences in the summer, like his son does.

I am a bit better off than the K-12 teachers, teaching math at a community college (though I've considered high school and the low pay is the main reason I don't move there, though in general I think preventing the problems is better than fixing them after they've occured as I do now) but it's not like our legislature is a friend of anyone in education. Luckily, our Governor (who vetoed more bills in her first term in office than any of her predecessors vetoed in two terms) is a strong friend of education.

Wurly said...

Hansen's "ugly note" is nothing more than what Bill Cosby has been saying for years and what Clarence Page recognized in a recent editorial.

MadisonMan said...

I think some oversight by hostile forces is definitely called for. It's far preferred to a blank check. Sure, there's a happy medium somewhere in the middle, but that never seems to be found in this state.

Of course, the problems in the Legislature are far worse. The Legislature became awfully quiet about the dearth of sick leave being taken by UW Professors -- who instead convert the sick days to health benefits on retirement -- when it was revealed that Legislators have an even worse record of taking sick days. I'm guessing that someone in the UW System is investigating double-dipping, accountability, backup jobs, felons, and political work done on the taxpayers' dime right now so when these issues are discussed re: the UW, the UW can note that the same things happen in the Legislature.

I think Rep. Nass needs to be reminded that the UW generates massive economic activity to the benefit of all. The Legislature? Not so much.

Mike said...

I saw an interview recently on the local news of one of our disinguished legislators. She had been railing against the low level of sick leave used by UW faculty, but when the interviewer asked why she had never taken sick leave during her tenure in the legistature she explained that her job was different. It wasn't 9 to 5. She was always working for the people. The level of either cluelessness or disingenuousness displayed (not possible to tell which) was a sight to behold.

Anonymous said...

I asked a family member in Wisconsin why the legislature seemed to have such a problem with UW given the generally strong reputation the system has for education, research, and service. The speculation was that it is an easy target as a huge line item in the budget in a time of perceived financial stress. Politically this is a useful distraction away from more serious problems in other areas of state government. Again, speculation, but it seems plausible.

LarryK said...

I gotta agree with Roger and Wurley- Prof Hansen is generalizing and his point wouldn't apply to all minorities. It is certainly debatable whether cultural factors are the "root cause" of minorities' academic underachievement, but not only is it not ugly to suggest this, but it is impossible to have an informed debate without considering this possibility.

On a personal note, I am a graduate of the UW Econ Dept's Graduate School and once TA's for Lee Hansen. As anyone who has seen in the classroom can attest, he cares passionately for teaching and education - which is far from the norm for the UW Econ Dept. I'm sure it brings him no joy to conclude that cultural factors are holding minority students back, but after a lifetime of research and hands on experience, his opinions deserve respect and consideration.

Joe Baby said...

With public universities ratcheting up tuition by double-digit figures every year, I think they open themselves up as targets.

And as for AZ teachers, 30k (to start) for an entry-level job that only runs 8 mos. per year and is extremely hard to lose (you really have to work at it) ain't bad. The problem with constant complaints about teachers being overworked and underpaid is that there are a lot of public school teachers, so most folks have a few teachers as friends and we see (in general) how hard they work.

And with systems such as Career Ladder that are laughably called merit systems, we see relevant evidence that true success is secondary to ensuring that every teacher gets the raise.

Any perceived discount in the starting rate for teachers is more than made up by the job security, huge yearly vacation, and lack of any system to weed out the chumps.

Revenant said...

Don't feel bad. Here in Arizona, our K-12 teachers are next to last in pay in the country (ahead of only Montana), and there are still legislators who think they are overpaid.

Arizona may be 49th in teacher pay, but it is 43rd and 41st for elementary and middle school performance. Montana, interestingly enough, is 17th and 6th.

Teacher pay has little to do with public education quality. This is unsurprising, given that the existing seniority and tenure systems make it next to impossible to tie teacher salary to job performance. If we increased teacher pay AND made all existing teachers re-apply for their current jobs AND based promotions and salary increases on student performance then we'd see a sharp increase in education quality. But you'll never get the best of the best to enroll in a system that gives incompetent people the same rewards as geniuses -- they can do much, much better in the private sector.

Roger Sweeny said...

Any perceived discount in the starting rate for teachers is more than made up by the job security, huge yearly vacation, and lack of any system to weed out the chumps.

That's true if you're risk averse, or think you're a bad teacher, or just feel, "I gave them the information; it's up to them to learn it."

But some of us would love the challenge. Of course, the union thinks we're crazy.