Language Politics

By Nicholas Fleisher

JFC testimony

Together with several UWM colleagues, and alongside hundreds of others, I attended today’s public hearing of the Joint Finance Committee of the Wisconsin Legislature, which was held at Alverno College in Milwaukee. This was the second of four public hearings held around the state this week and next.

The hearing was an education in the many deplorable proposals contained in Scott Walker’s 2015-17 budget. I have been focused primarily on the proposed funding cuts and structural changes to the UW System, and also on the funding cuts to K-12 education and the proposed voucher expansion. During the time that I was able to attend the hearing, I heard impassioned and compelling testimony against Walker’s proposed cuts to Family Care and IRIS, among many other things. Walker’s budget is a moral catastrophe from front to back.

I could only stay for about four hours, and thus wasn’t able to speak at the hearing. My colleagues who arrived much earlier than me finally got their chance to speak after waiting for eight and a half hours. I delivered a written copy of my prepared testimony to a committee page. The testimony is designed to fit within the allotted two-minute time limit, and is correspondingly terse and narrow in focus. It is reproduced below:

Dear Committee Members,

I am an assistant professor of Linguistics at UW-Milwaukee. I’d like to begin by commending you for taking seriously the issue of UW tuition and affordability—as shown, for example, in Reps. Nygren and Knudson’s statement issued Wednesday—and also for your healthy skepticism of UW administrative leaders. I’m glad to see that many of you share the concerns that I and my colleagues have expressed about the very sketchy public authority proposal and its potential effects on tuition, and I’m glad to hear that the public authority is now unlikely to become law in this budget.

But I find it difficult to square your stated concern for UW affordability with the proposal to cut state funding to the System, even by an amount smaller than Gov. Walker’s proposed $300 million. The major driver of tuition increases is the state disinvestment that we have seen under both Democratic and Republican administrations. This is true across all sectors in higher education—research universities, comprehensives, and technical and community colleges—and ultimately holding down tuition depends on your commitment to maintaining and eventually increasing funding levels.

I also urge you, in light of the demise of the public authority proposal, to keep Chapter 36 intact in state law in this budget. Some legislative leaders this week have taken issue with the Board of Regents’ recent resolutions in support of tenure and shared governance. If you take a look at public university systems in other states—including Michigan, California, Texas, Ohio, and many others—you will find that tenure and shared governance are bedrock principles enshrined in Board of Regents rules and bylaws, much as our Board of Regents resolved at its last meeting. Endangering these principles in Wisconsin would be a major self-inflicted wound to our national and international competitiveness, and would make it impossible for UW to recruit and retain top faculty. Like a number of my colleagues, I came to Wisconsin from a tenure-track job at a university in another state. Had UW not had tenure and shared governance, I would not have so much as applied for the job I now hold.

UW faculty share your concerns about affordability and quality. Please let us continue to work with you to maintain and improve both, for the good of the state we all love and call home.

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