Here’s what it’s like. You thought he was raising his hand to say “stop” but he hit you instead.
Here’s what it’s like to be a tenured UW System faculty member right now. You’re in a lifeboat. Other people are drowning. You can close your eyes. You can cover your ears. But they’re still drowning.
Here’s what it’s like. You get off the train holding your children’s hands. You’re forced to choose which one lives and which one dies.
Here’s what it’s like. A serial killer makes you choose which pound of flesh you will cut out of yourself.
It’s not really like that, of course. No one’s dying. There’s not physical violence.
Moreover, I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child or be left alive when someone else drowns (though I read Ordinary People about six hundred times when I was 13). I do know what it’s like to be hit–one time I thought a man was raising his hand to motion “shush,” but he punched me instead (Carbondale, Halloween). I have no experience with serial killers. So–sorry if I’m seeming melodramatic.
But the proposed cuts to the UW System? And my institution’s range of possible responses?
It feels awful.
Here’s what it’s really like.
The street in front of my house is torn up right now because the village is putting in storm drains and widening the street a bit. Trees were cut down last fall. It’s ugly right now, and it will never again be as pretty as it was, with the canopy of mature sugar maples making the entrance to downtown Spring Green the very picture of “small-town tree-lined street.” If that’s part of what you loved about the Spring Green Art Fair—sorry. No more. At least not on my end of the street. I’m skeptical whether all the trees really needed to come down, because the people in charge of projects like this don’t seem to have the same feelings and beliefs I do when I comes to trees. Nonetheless, we’ve been told the replacement trees will be native (smallish—not full-sized sugar maples, but still native—and especially NOT suburban-looking ornamental pseudo-trees). Overall, I’m o.k. with what’s going on. Storm drains will be FANTASTIC. No more navigating lakes and frozen lakes and partially frozen lakes to get the mail or get in and out of a car at the curb.
But what if I found out all the destruction, all the tree demolition, was for no good reason? What if the trees were needed only because someone had a jones to show off their wood chipper? What if I found out that there’s no longer a plan to re-pave it all? Or there’s a plan to pave it lightly, right on top, with no foundation below? What if the whole street were getting demolished simply to provide dirt for a big hole somewhere else?
I would feel like I feel right now about the UW System.
Angry. Distraught. Relatively hopeless and helpless.
The UW Colleges is facing cuts that I think we cannot survive.
Here’s the worst part at the moment—our institution is going implement massive changes soon because we can’t afford not to, just in case the cuts are as bad as Governor Walker’s budget requested. Or, even if they’re not THAT bad, even if they’re half as bad. We’re still implementing cuts.
The specifics of it are not firm yet, but it will be ugly and awful and bad no matter what.
And once you’ve cut those trees down, well–it will never be the same.
I have a lot of respect for local legislators. Howard Marklein and Ed Brooks came to my campus and listened to us, and I know they’re trying to do what they can. I was impressed with both of them.
There’s talk of holding the UW Colleges harmless in the cuts, and while that might mean we actually live to fight another day, it also feels awful. (I mean—we kind of all know that Jan died, too. And this feels so much like Scott Walker’s tried-and-true method of divide and conquer—we’re like rats in a tub fighting over baubles and moldered scraps.)
But however much respect I have for my local legislators–that budget hole they’re filling? Their party created it. They’re fine with tax breaks the state couldn’t afford. They’re fine with refusing to take federal money for Medicaid. They won’t do what Minnesota has done.
Here’s what it’s like. Have you ever had a nightmare where someone bad is chasing you and you’re so freaked out you just fall down and think “just kill me. Kill me now.”
It’s not like that, not really. I’m awake, for one thing. But part of me wants to fall down and say “Just do it. Close my campus now.”
We’re supposed to feel good, apparently, about the fact that closing a campus isn’t on the table or in the plans.
But if you were to cut down trees and tear up a street and dig giant holes and abandon any pretense of putting in pipes or repaving it at some point—who would want to drive there? Who would want to live there? Who would hold an art fair there, if there were any other street available?
And if you cut my campus so much that it’s just a shell, who would want to go to school there? Who would want to work there?
For an ongoingly good voice about all this, check out Chuck Rybak’s blog.
Posting this while I eat lunch, btw. It’s a really good lunch.
Maybe I’m wrong about how awful it’ll be.