Gov. Scott Walker’s sharp criticism of faculty at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee — depicting them as overpaid, groaning fussbudgets who barely interact with students, as one instructor put it — has drawn a point-by-point rebuttal from the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
“The governor cited a number of statistics about the faculty that are either misleading or false,” the Milwaukee AAUP said of a Walker statement citing salary, workload and student contact statistics.
Walker released his statement as UWM faculty prepared for a unanimous vote of no confidence in UW System President Ray Cross and the Board of Regents on Tuesday. UWM was the fourth campus where faculty declared no confidence in UW System leadership over their handling of budgetary, tenure and shared governance issues after a similar resolution was approved at UW-Madison on May 2.
Faculty and staff at UW-Eau Claire postponed a vote on a no confidence resolution Tuesday, while UW-Green Bay faculty overwhelming approved one on Wednesday. Faculty on the UW campuses of La Crosse and River Falls have also voted no confidence.
AAUP begins its rebuttal by saying that Walker’s criticism of a declining amount of time spent by faculty with students ignores a recent emphasis on research at UWM that won the institution the highest national designation — R1 — this year. “This shows the success of UWM’s research focus, and it enhances the value of a UWM degree for our students and state alike,” the professors said. “We would hope the governor would welcome this achievement, rather than bashing the faculty who have worked to make it possible on one of the lowest costs to educate per student of any R1 university in the country. UWM is a national low-cost leader.”
Walker’s citing of the average salary of a full-time UWM full professor — $101,700 in 2013-2014 — is cherry-picking the statistics, AAUP said. Those top earners include less than 30 percent of UWM faculty, they said, adding that it would present a truer picture of faculty earnings to average out pay across the spectrum of faculty.
The source for salary figures cited by Walker’s office, a state Legislative Reference Bureau UW System Overview published in January 2015, cites UWM average nine-month salary for full professors of $101,700. The same table also includes an average salary figure for all full time faculty — professors, associate professors, assistant professors and instructors — of $73,000.
Among other statistics refuted by AAUP is a 40 percent increase in spending per student since 2002-2003. That number is misleading because it blends together all sources of funding, the organization said, while state funding has “declined precipitously” in recent years. In fact, said AAUP, “the bulk of the increase in per-student spending over the period cited by the governor comes from the steep increases in tuition that he elsewhere decries.”
AAUP’s numbers for instructor-student ratio vary wildly from Walker’s.
AAUP, citing the UW System Accountability Dashboard as its source, calculates a ratio of 28.3 students per faculty, for 23,108 full time equivalent undergraduates in fall 2014 and 814 faculty.
Add in 861 instructional academic staff counted on the Dashboard in the mix, and the ratio moves to 13.8 students per “faculty.”
Walker’s office cites a “current” ratio of 2.8 students per faculty member at UWM, and points to the same Accountability Dashboard as its source. The governor's office said it used headcount, a more inclusive number of students than the full-time students counted by AAUP. That calculates to 34.4 students per faculty member or 16.7 students per all levels of instructor.
Jessica McBride, the UWM instructor who paraphrased Walker’s depiction of faculty as “overpaid, groaning fussbudgets,” questioned the motivation of Walker and the Republican-dominated state Legislature in an opinion piece at On Milwaukee.
“Republicans engineered budget cuts so fast and big that it almost seems like part of the motive was to force administrators to monetize everything, using weakened tenure provisions to cast aside the liberal theorists whom conservatives consider ideological foes and whose research they, thus, devalue as nonessential,” McBride wrote.
"He claims faculty have 2.8 students. He must be focusing on the sliver of people hired solely to research in the sciences, or something similar, to skew the number, because it's a ridiculous figure when you consider academic staff (and I don't know a single professor who teaches that few students). And UWM PR says it's completely wrong," McBride wrote.
“It's not that I think there should never be fiscal study nor potential reform in a system this large; it's that I don't think it should be built on facile, insulting rhetoric about greedy, lazy professors,” she said.