Friday, June 19, 2015

UW: Should I stay or should I go?

There’s a lot of talk now about UW faculty being poached or just looking to flee the state. The following is a real letter from a senior faculty member at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I have been saying that the first real question for faculty now is whether to run or to fight. Below is that person’s decision. With all the talk of people leaving under present circumstances, it’s a reminder that there’s another option.

This faculty member had been repeatedly invited last year to apply for a position that was pretty much ideal for them, a situation with serious new resources at an excellent institution with real chances to build something big and lasting. They had resisted but eventually decided that the opportunity to do something important for their field was very real and that the prospects for real innovation at Madison were deteriorating rapidly. So they applied. The application was moving to the very serious stages of the hiring process, but the person says “when the JFC omnibus came out, everything changed. I had to think about this anew, from the beginning”.  The letter went out a couple days ago.

Dear -----, dear ------, dear ------,
After two weeks of soul searching, I am writing now to tell you that I’ve decided that I must withdraw from consideration for appointment to the position of Chair in ---------- at ---------- University. Having served on many search committees, I know how much time and effort goes into scrutinizing candidates, and apologize for having put the committee through this extra work. 
As I said several times during the process, I have not applied for a job in many years, nor even seriously considered applying for one. The decision to apply for this position reflected the amazing possibilities the position represents.  It’s a set of opportunities and challenges I would dearly love to tackle. 
In ways I could not have expected when I applied or even when I spoke most recently with ----------, my professional circumstances have changed very suddenly and right now I simply cannot abandon the University of Wisconsin. Our budget has been slashed year after year and I knew that those cuts would continue apace this year and next. But the state legislature has now proposed to eliminate tenure protections and our tradition of shared governance. I had earlier reached a decision that I could continue to work with my graduate students and continue collaborations here from afar, but we now face a serious, long-term battle for the future of a great institution and the future of higher education in this state. I’ve invested too much in and owe too much to this institution, my students and people here at early career stages to simply walk away at this juncture. 
The position at ---------- is an exciting and important one for a set of areas in our field and I’m honored to have been considered so seriously for it. I know that there are outstanding candidates and I look forward to collaborating with the person who ultimately takes the position. 
With my apologies and wishes for a successful hire,
This person has a message for faculty as well:
I struggled personally with this decision, but this is a national fight. If Wisconsin goes, you know that other states will follow. Way back when, I thought moving to Wisconsin meant moving to a politically stable, secure place. Nowhere is safe now. So whether you stay or go, you have to engage. As public higher education is being systematically destroyed, tenured and tenure-track faculty are still among the most privileged and best protected. You have to fight for your own interests, but you better also be fighting for the staff who make your job possible and the students up to their eyeballs in debt. We’re in this together and we win together or lose together.
Just fyi.
Mr. Verb

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