Concerns regarding faculty research and benefits are at the forefront of conversation among the College of Letters and Science faculty and staff, especially for the United Faculty and Staff of Oshkosh, a union formed in spring of 2018.
UW Oshkosh staff and faculty in the COLS are facing increased work loads and potential cuts due to the three-phase fiscal recovery plan, which started in September. The plan includes a $937,000-plus cut to COLS spending coming in 2019-20.
For UWO political science professor Jerry Thomas, the threat is personal. Thomas said students don’t see that faculty work on valuable research at UWO.
Thomas is currently working on a research piece that is coming out in a journal in December titled, “Fag Child Tools: Softening the Body Politic and Sexualizing Paul Ryan in a Pussy-Grabbing Era.” This is one of many pieces of his research regarding sexuality, law and politics.
“The bottom line is this: In this climate of cuts to education, it’s more than just the tangible things that we see, like this person is losing her job. It’s also what research ideas are we impeding that come out of this University?” Thomas said. “This is not just a place where we mill people through. This is an intellectual and cultural center of our state, and cuts to education are strangling the ideas that we’re able to generate and work with students to cultivate.”
Thomas said he relates the silencing of his research to the AIDS pandemic, where an entire generation of gay men died along with their ideas.
“I’ve committed myself to try and pick [their research] up, to pick up where they’ve sort of left off, to keep continuing this pursuit, and now they’re saying to me, ‘Sorry Jerry, you’re just going to have to do another class and you’re just going to have to set your research aside,’ as if to say, ‘Go ahead, die Jerry. We just don’t really care about you,’” Thomas said. “So it’s very personal to me.”
UFSO President Jim Feldman said many faculty are not interested in taking on the extra workloads.
“Whether that means I refuse to teach more, and I insist on my same salary,” Feldman said. “Or there are some faculty who … ask that we investigate the option to simply leave their teaching loads where they are and accept a slightly lower pay as a result. How that looks is something that is very much still in consideration with the administration and the University and human resources. I think that gets technical very quickly.”
Feldman said that due to the union’s policy, he cannot disclose union member numbers to non-members; however, the union is steadily growing. Last spring, the union created a petition to discourage COLS from increasing workloads for about 150 faculty members and to oppose cutting academic staff in 2018.
Feldman said the University decided to back down from their decision and to revisit the question in fall of 2018.
“So about two weeks ago, the college announced that for the fall of 2019, the same thing would happen, that they would expect the tenured faculty to increase the amount that they are teaching so that they cannot renew the contracts for academic staff,” Feldman said.
Feldman said Wisconsin Act 10 stopped public sector employees from having collective bargaining rights, or the ability for the union to negotiate with the University or employer on behalf of the faculty at large.
“So that has been the law since 2011, so our union is not trying to seek collective bargaining rights, because that’s not something we’re legally allowed to do,” Feldman said. “We’re trying to give faculty and staff a voice in the working conditions and the teaching conditions at UW Oshkosh.”
Overall, Feldman said he feels the issue is a legislative issue rather than a University issue. However, Feldman said he doesn’t feel that the University is being transparent.
“There is a lot of questions about how the money is apportioned to the different colleges that seems unclear, and how the decisions about how those budgets are apportioned is not transparent,” Feldman said. “There have been suggestions that the University is building a reserve fund … at the same time that we’re firing people who are longtime employees of the University, and sacrificing the quality of education that we’re offering; (that) seems very unwise. But it’s hard to get straight answers about whether that is happening or not.”
UWO senior Brandon Colligan said although the state economy has recovered considerably, funding for higher education and other priorities in the state have been flatlined and that we have seen no substantial commitment to reinvesting in higher education.
“It shows where our legislators’ priorities lie at the moment,” Colligan said. “Wisconsin has long had a bipartisan tradition of upholding the UW as the asset that it is for our state. Studies show that the UW System has a $24 billion impact on the state’s economy alone. That only measures economic impact and does not keep into consideration the intellectual capital it creates for our communities and the work that our professors do for our University. With the election of a new governor and a booming economy, it is as important as ever for the state, particularly the legislature, to make it a funding priority once more.”