Wednesday, October 31, 2012

UPDATED! UW-Madison's Community Speaks Out on HR Design

Tuesday morning at 11 am, my colleagues and I initiated an online petition requesting that the Director of Human Resources at UW-Madison, Bob Lavigna, put his good intentions for revising the HR plan in writing before shared governance groups are asked to vote on the plan next week.

Just one day later, we had 223 signatures and counting!  Two days later we crossed the 300 mark.  This includes dozens of faculty, including many prominent, senior members who know and love the place.  Clearly, in this town people care about having information at hand and in writing before they're asked to vote.  As Marcia Schiffman of the Department of Opthamology and Visual Science put it, "How can you make an informed decision either way without the actual proposal, changes and all, in front of you?"

One of the best things about an online petition is that signers can leave comments, and as a sociologist I'm finding their words full of insights into how we struggle to make public higher education a better place.  Consider what this effort means to them.


"The HR redesign plan will have deep, long-run implications for the climate and values at the University of Wisconsin. Often such institutional redesigns have significant 'unintended consequences.' Only if the details are clear and explicit is it possible to assess these implications."
Erik Olin Wright, Professor, Department of Sociology

"There are reasons why people work for corporations or work for the University. I've worked at the UW for 20 years and I always felt the employee had a voice. This has not been the feeling in the last few years. We need to bring that back and now is the time to start."
 Mark Mears, Graduate Coordinator, Department of German

"As an Assistant Professor at UW-Madison, it is imperative to me that the process and outcomes of the HR Design plan reflect our campus values and commitments, and that this process be as transparent and open as possible."
Edward Hubbard, Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Psychology

"I sign this petition because I love this university and am so proud to work at a university that values faculty governance and values every one of its employees. The HR design can strengthen or weaken this incredible institution."
                          Nancy Kendall, Associate Professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies

"We don't need to move backward, we need to move forward. This effects all employees of UW-Madison. Everyone has a voice and should be heard. We should be able to work coopertavely, together."
Marsha Abrams, Medical Associate, Department of Psychiatry

"Working for the UW used to come with shiny bells and whistles. The shininess has been replaced by rust in the matter of a few years. People are talking more about leaving the UW than staying. I don’t want to feel as if I am expendable, nor do I want my fellow co-workers to feel that way. It is only fair and just to be fully informed, not just be shown what are to be the benefits of the new OHR system, but what is hidden in the dark corners as well. A well informed community is what is needed in order to make a wise decision towards any investment, and this would be a huge investment for our University. Our place of work, our lives, our family’s lives, the student’s lives, and the city’s heart will all be impacted."
Kristina Kendall, Accounts Payable

"Effective faculty governance requires full access to information."
Jon McKenzie, Associate Professor, Department of English

"As encouraged by George McGovern, I wish to be a voice of conscience."
Teryl Dobbs, Assistant Professor, Department of Music Education


Finally, as we look forward into our future-- and our new chancellor-- I leave you with these words of warning issued by Jay Stamper, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis: "It is best to go into the future with a well developed plan.

Join us--sign now-- and tell us what you think.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Know What You've Voting For

On Monday the Faculty Senate at UW-Madison will vote on HR Design.  The University Committee has crafted a nice resolution supporting the plan, which is great, but the fact is that they do not know what they are supporting. They are acting on faith, a lovely sentiment, but not a realistic one in a Wisconsin where conditions for working families erode daily.

Join us in calling on the Director of Human Resources to reveal a written list of changes to the current plan that he intends to ask the executive committee (chancellor, provost, and vice chancellor for administration) to suport.

Know. Then Vote.

It's a good plan for Monday November 5-- and for Tuesday November 6 too.


My Whole-Time Husband

I'm taking a break from the topic of educational policy this morning to tell you a bit about the man who makes my active engagement with educational policy possible -- my husband, Liam.

You've probably noticed that Liam hasn't been contributing to our blog much lately.  Don't mistake this for an absence of commentary on current debates-- he always has plenty to say. Rather, Liam's been quiet on the blogging front in order to make my scholar-activism and motherhood jointly possible.

As I muddle through my 9th academic year at UW-Madison, and prepare to walk five doctoral students  and umpteen master's students across the stage in spring to earn their degrees, I'm increasingly asked by younger colleagues, how do you do it all?  I don't think they're necessarily remarking on the content of my work itself, but rather the volume of activities in which I engage, and the degree to which I bring energy to each of them.

The answer is really quite simple: Liam.

We have two children, ages 2 and 5, along with a dog and a cat, two cars, and a beautiful home. There are three meals a day for us all, always toilet paper when needed, clean laundry, and regular dental checkups and flu shots.  Bedtimes are regular, as are baths, and bills are paid on time.  But throughout it all, I travel 3-4 times a month giving talks, and juggle several consulting gigs on top of my full-time tenured position. This year I'm chairing my department's admissions committee and search committee, co-directing the annual conference and co-organizing our 10 year review, while also chairing a university-wide committee and overseeing a research team of more than 20 people.  Ah, and teaching.

How to make these things jibe?  Liam.  He works full-time as policy director for the New Teachers Center, but begins each day after taking the kids to their daytime activities and stopping in time to pick them up for their evening ones. He is always happy to see them, knows every detail of their likes and dislikes, never cross, never a bear, and consistently joyful in everything in they do.

When he's away, everything falls to pieces.  The kids and I try to scrape by, but we never survive.  We are miserable alone together, without our glue.  He returns, and we are all back in the swing.

The British writer Arnold Bennett once said that "being a husband is a whole-time job. That is why so many husbands fail. They cannot give their entire attention to it."  Well, incredibly my husband can.  He's a whole-time husband, and if women worldwide could achieve to their full capacities supported by men like him, the next generation would be in wonderful hands.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Gatekeepers of Higher Education

A recent survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed may provide some insights into the sorting mechanism that today's version of higher education is known for.  How does higher education perpetuate inequality?  Let's take a look at the admissions practices of our most accessible, affordable, bachelor's-degree granting institutions-- America's public universities.

Admissions officers at public universities reported:

  • Distributing at least some financial aid as a reward, rather than focusing their limited budgets on helping the neediest students afford college. Fully 31% (nearly as many as the private universities) said they are increasing their effort to distribute such "merit" aid, which studies have shown flows disproportionately to advantaged students whose propensities to graduate college are already very high.  There's very little return on investment for such spending and yet 44% of these folks said merit aid was a "good use" of institutional resources. Why? Largely because they help improve the "profile" of entering students-- an input, not an output, but one administrators continue to be obsessed with, since the American public continues to buy the myth that most colleges create great students rather than merely enroll great students.  After all, more than one-third of these admissions officers said that senior administrators, board members, or development officers got involved in trying to influence their decisions!
  • Going whole hog after out-of-state students, transfer students, and minority students but doing far less to recruit first-generation students, adult students, or veterans-- those for whom college opportunities are most likely to be in-state and life transforming.
  • Largely disagreeing with the notion that promising minority students with otherwise low test scores should be admitted to college. Compared to their peers, about half of whom felt this was a good idea, only 39% of admissions officers at public universities agreed.  But they were more likely than their peers to feel just fine about admitting athletes with sub-par test scores!
  • Adhering to the mistaken belief that test scores predict college success, or are otherwise a good tool for admissions.  Only 9% of public university admissions officers feel their schools should go test-optional, compared to 18% of admissions officers overall. So 91% like the standardized tests, but just 84% find admissions essays helpful.  Hmmm...
All I can say is, let's hope this survey is bunk. It had a 15% response rate, which is pretty lousy.  But if it's right, we need to pay a lot more attention to the professionals who are putting our policies into practice. It seems they have some opinions of their own...

Making Income-Contingent Loans Cost Effective

Check out an op-ed that I co-authored with my doctoral student Robert Kelchen on income-contingent loans, over at the Chronicle.   Then, be sure to check out Robert's new blog!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Next UW-Madison Chancellor... Tommy Thompson?

The search for a new chancellor of UW-Madison is now underway.  This is a critical search for our community, as changes on multiple fronts threaten to destroy the aspects of Madison that makes it such a wonderful place to teach and learn.

It's absolutely imperative that YOU get involved.  Start by attending one of the upcoming sessions on campus, hosted by the search and screen committee.  Think about nontraditional candidates-- consider those who've worked hard to take leadership roles as faculty in public higher education, for example, but not yet worked as a high-level administrator.  Think outside the typical research university model.  Think outside of the usual corporate models.

Sift and winnow.  Others already are.  Word reached me late last week that some people are thinking "nontraditional" indeed, and seeking to follow the lead of Indiana by bringing this guy into the mix.  Does Tommy meet your definition of a top-notch UW-Madison chancellor? If not, what do you plan to do about it?

Think. Act. Get involved. Don't sit still and wait for it to simply "happen" to us. Please.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Five Ways to Enhance the Effectiveness of HR Design

This fall marks my ninth academic year at UW–Madison. During my time here I’ve experienced our human resources system in many ways—as a new mother seeking a maternity leave (twice), as a temporarily disabled employee in need of a leave, as a frustrated faculty member seeking a raise, and multiple times as the director of a large research project trying to hire and retain qualified classified and academic staff. I know firsthand that the system needs to change in order to realize our campus goals of equity, efficiency, and effectiveness.

That is why I have taken seriously the HR Design team’s request for input from shared governance units, spending significant time studying the plan, and commenting on it in multiple venues. I think further adjustments to the current plan are required, because my own knowledge of higher education reform efforts and the scholarly literature on work and organizations suggests that as currently formulated it will have significant unintended consequences, eroding some of what we value most about our university. Therefore, I am providing five recommendations for revising the plan so that UW–Madison’s approach to the management of human resources continues to reflect an ethos that prioritizes egalitarianism over ego, and recognizes that our greatest resource is our communal passion for and commitment to our work, rather than the competitive yet aimless striving for prestige that has overcome many of our peer institutions.

Recommendation 1:Expand the plan’s current living wage provisions to include workers at businesses receiving university contracts of $5,000 or more and student hourly employees.

The current plan calls for the implementation of a living wage policy that omits two groups: student hourly workers and contracted employees. Including contracted employees would bring the policy in line with the City of Madison’s living wage provisions. Their exclusion creates an incentive for the university to outsource more functions, which may increase efficiency but will also erode job security. In addition, providing a living wage to contractors and students helps ensure at least a modicum of equity among all people working in our community.
Recommendation 2: Revise the compensation philosophy guiding the plan to make internal equity and collective performance the primary, rather than secondary, compensation drivers.

The current plan repeatedly emphasizes enhancing “individual potential, opportunity, and achievement,” which, while important, overlooks the critical role played by teamwork in providing high-quality learning experiences and producing innovative research. The 21st century research university increasingly requires collaboration across disciplines and units, creating work environments where people trained in different disciplines (and who are thus part of different labor markets) work alongside each other. The plan briefly acknowledges this, but the compensation strategies it outlines focus first on the role of market competitiveness (noting that it will be a factor in establishing compensation) and only secondly (and far less frequently) on internal equity. The roles of these factors should be reversed in each section. After all, the compensation work team (which, as an aside, did not include any non-administrator faculty members) recommended that market value be considered in setting wages but said nothing about de-valuing or de-emphasizing equity (although it appears the committee did not consider alternative, equity-focused models of compensation at all). It is reasonable that the committee wanted to add market-based pay to the mix of compensation drivers. However, the extent to which this driver should be emphasized, and how to assess cross-departmental collaborations taking into account diverse disciplinary “markets,” are very complex questions deserving a more careful work.

Recommendation 3: Require mandatory training for all managers tasked with setting employee compensation and/or benefits.

Given the highly decentralized nature of the plan, managers will almost always be faculty members, and yet most would acknowledge that they are not trained for or comfortable with performing human resources functions. The compensation work group noted this among its concerns, stating, “Another concern is that not all faculty and staff supervisors will assume responsibility to fairly, objectively and consistently implement formal performance evaluation processes.” This is too important a role to be left to the untrained, but the efficacy of this plan relies exclusively on their responsible participation in the training. It is especially important to give managers guidance about how to conduct and utilize market analyses in departments and units where scholars from different disciplines work side by side (thus creating much potential for internal inequity), and also to train them in assessing the comparable worth of similar yet unequal tasks. The current plan notes that a lack of training for managers was named as a problem in the listening sessions and mentions the training of hiring managers, but says nothing about rigorously training those who set compensation.

Recommendation 4: Alter the recommendation in the plan associated with shared governance to focus on joint decision making rather than advice and input.

The recommendations on shared governance, particularly with respect to development of the compensation pay plan and changes in benefits (leave, insurances, etc.) stress that the shared governance institutions, specifically that of the newly created University Staff, provide advice and input to the administration afterthe plan is developed. This is not indicative of a collaborative or shared governance model. While at many institutions shared governance merely requires the involvement of faculty, staff, and students as listeners and occasional speakers, this is not the historic practice at Madison and shared decision-making responsibilities should not be eroded through changes to language in specific plans like these.

Recommendation 5: Require mandatory performance reporting and accountability metrics for the new HR System.

At minimum, the plan should explain which reports should be produced and what consequences will be associated with performance. For example, public annual reports should assess changes in internal equity (between faculty and staff, among groups with regard to gender and race), faculty and staff turnover, and the absolute and relative number of positions that are university employees versus contractors. These reports should be presented to both the Faculty Senate and the Academic Staff Assembly (and the shared governance body of the University Staff), and the senior leadership council should describe what responses to the plan will take place should inequity, turnover, outsourcing, or other negative unintended consequences of the new HR design emerge or worsen.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Equity, Performance, and Employee Compensation

Every employee at UW-Madison believes they deserve to be paid more, and the vast majority are right. It's time we recognize and begin to address the fact that most workers across Wisconsin are underpaid--in UW and far beyond. Increasing compensation for everyone in the bottom half of the income distribution should be a state and national priority, especially given the evident and long-lasting consequences of widening income inequality.

Unfortunately, the HR Design plan at UW-Madison is nearly silent on the issue of raising compensation for all currently underpaid employees. Instead, it focuses on how compensation levels will be determined and how raises will be distributed when money is available.  It does nothing whatsoever to make sure more money is available. Remember that-- don't allow the desire for more pay to lead you to blindly accept the terms of a plan that doesn't bring more pay but rather changes the terms on which you are paid.  

The biggest change related to compensation in the HR Design is the new and explicit attention to "market competitiveness" in setting compensation levels and determining raises. This is a response to the status quo, which has been identified as a problem with this statement:

"State law prohibits UW–Madison from giving unclassified employees performance-based pay raises unless they are part of an annual pay plan—and there has not been a pay plan in four years" (p. 24).  

What exactly is the problem?  Is it that performance pay cannot be given outside of annual pay plans? Or is it that there hasn't been a pay plan in 4 years? These are two separate issues, and should be tackled separately.  The first is about pay equity, and the second is about the consequences of austerity agendas.  Current discussions conflate these issues-- employees are upset about the lack of a pay plan and thus some are desperate to agree to anything that leads to pay, for anyone, no matter the consequence. That's a recipe for disaster.

It seems the HR team has concluded that the former issue must be addressed and therefore proposed mechanisms for awarding performance pay even in the absence of a pay plan by calling for a model that "balances market competitiveness and internal equity."  Essentially, instead of developing a new model for UW-Madison that leverages scarce resources for fair and humane treatment of all employees, this model opens the door to further growth in salary inequities across and within units.  It does this by promoting salary increases based at least partly on market competitiveness without explicitly requiring attention to internal equity, as part of both the compensation philosophy and the roles and responsibilities of managers.

The reasoning provided for this approach is fallible. We are told that employees want their pay based on market competitiveness-- yet the survey questions utilized in the employee polls ask about these issues in isolation. A better approach would ask employees to rank their preferences-- a pay plan distributed equitably, with some additional pay for performance; pay distributed inequitably, with no overall pay plan provided, etc. In other words, when presented with a false choice, it isn't at all surprising that employees choose to protect themselves. But what we're given here isn't our only option.

A review of extant research leads me to conclude that pay for performance has uneven effects in environments like UW-Madison. The main issue at Madison and across Wisconsin is that pay levels are low-- not that they aren't tied to performance.  Tying pay to a combination of performance and equity will reduce, not enhance, the transparency of the compensation process, and thus likely increase the sense of injustice that already pervades campus.  Basing pay on an unspecified assessment of market value will lead employees to feel even more left out of the process, making them even unhappier. In other words, it is likely that HR Design will do nothing to improve the feelings among UW employees that their compensation levels are unfair and inappropriate.   It may even make things worse.

As an alternative, I therefore propose the following revisions to the HR Design's compensation plans:

(1) Make internal equity a priority in the setting of compensation by describing it as an explicit priority central to the compensation philosophy and part of the compensation function's roles and responsibilities.  Educational institutions are unique environments that place a priority on collaboration, including across disciplines, and it is for the good of our teaching and research at UW-Madison that we be allowed to prioritize internal equity when distributing any and all forms of compensation.  This is an essential revision of state statutes and one we should fight for.

(2) Clearly define the terms "market," "performance," and "merit" in the plan and delineate among them. Be clear, which types of pay result in base increases, and which do not?

(3) Provide explicit guidance to managers working with employees who work across units or in interdisciplinary settings. These areas are where pay based on markets are likely to do the most harm - imagine the sociologist teaching alongside the economist in the same department, where the latter professor (most often a male) out-earns the former (usually a female) 2 to 1. It happens under our current system, and is demonstrably counterproductive. These are the types of problems we can and should fix in order to enhance our ability to retain workers and ensure their flourishing.

(4) Include all employees-- included contracted employees--in the plan to provide a living wage.
 The only people who will clearly benefit from HR Design in terms of current base pay are those at the bottom of the pay scale who will remain university staff and will now receive a living wage under this plan.  The number of people meeting that description is not mentioned in the plan.  That number should be considered in relation to the likely number of jobs that are currently university staff jobs and will instead be contracted out to save the university money. The City of Madison pays living wages to all contractors on contract over $5,000.

UW-Madison should take the lead in reducing income inequality in Wisconsin, not exacerbating it. We are national leaders when it comes to our collective devotion to our work, and that strong intrinsic motivation should be leveraged whenever and wherever possible.  No, it should not be exploited--as it now is-- to justify underpaying us. But do not let the poor practices of our neighbors compel us to lose what's great about our community--we have no desire to become a "winner take all" society.

HR Design Meeting: The Community Speaks

My sources tell me that Varsity Hall in Union South was completely packed for today's meeting on HR Design.  At this "informational session" the HR team spoke for 60 minutes, leaving just 30 minutes for Q & A.

During that time, 18 people were able to ask questions.  Here's the list-- some people repeated a question when the first iteration did not get a satisfactory answer  I'm told the most frequent responses  from the team were "There is no easy answer" and "There is no one answer."
  1. If there is a perception of hierarchy [between the academic and classified staff], why has the faculty not been included in this process?
  2. In which category (academic or the new university staff) do the trades fit?  Will pay increases (living wage?) be honored?
  3. How was data used in these plans?  
  4. What are the current plans for staff diversity?
  5. What does governance mean for university (classified) staff? 
  6. How are salaries affected by the compensation plans (flexibility and living wages)? 
  7. What is university staff governance?  It is compared to the academic staff version, but many of us don't know what that means.
  8. What are the advantages of moving or staying in the current classified staff system?
  9. Which changes apply to student hourlies?  Does the living wage apply?
  10. What is the difference between a student living wage and the living wage mentioned for other staff?
  11. The faculty are managers, but have no training.  How will they be held accountable?
  12. How will employees and managers be held accountable?
  13. The HR committee needs to realize faculty are not interested in HR and the hierarchy will not disappear.  They are overwhelmed and have no time for administrative tasks.  They need more support.  You can't expect that type of cultural change from a training.
  14. What is the minimum living wage?
  15. What if these changes doesn't get approved in time, and implementation is held up?
  16. How are retiring staff affected?
  17. How is collective bargaining affected?
  18. What assurance do we have that merit pay is not another form of favoritism?  We need a system that is fair to everyone.

These are good questions. I wonder how many people on campus even know this process is occurring...

Just the "Facts" on HR Design

Yesterday's Faculty Senate meeting at UW-Madison provided a wonderful illustration of how the cycle of widening economic inequality is regenerated through the actions of colleges and universities.
A Word Cloud Illustration of the Terms Contained in HR Design's Strategic Plan Components.  Word size is relative to frequency in document. 
Here's a thumbnail sketch of the process leading to the prioritization of markets over equity as depicted above. (In case you can't find it, "equity" is that tiny word hidden under "Job" on the left, above)

  1. Wisconsin's conservative politicians slash investments in public higher education. This is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the reduction of human capital formation via public institutions.  The following steps are also required.
  2. Public colleges and universities struggle to respond. They have multiple options, one of which is to fight the disinvestment while protecting its most vulnerable programs, employees, and students, but instead they adopt a suggestion provided by fiscally conservative liberals: turn to the market for ideas and support!
  3. University administrators promote a new set of principles for the allocation of resources based on market rationales-- efficiency, effectiveness, and performance! Of course equity will be preserved, they say, but that's "up to you and your managers-- the power is all yours and the devil is in the details!" Yep, sure is.
  4. These new principles and plans are developed "in collaboration" with the very few faculty, staff, and students who, in the midst of great economic and time constraints, are actually available for these discussions.  The "opportunity" for a new model is repeatedly emphasized as an inherently good thing, a wise thing, and one that will help us "help ourselves." These discussions result in a set of stylized proposals resting on unquestioned assumptions.
  5. The plans are presented to "stakeholders."  They are described as based on "facts" of unquestionable validity and declared "not part of an effort to corporatize the university."  Such declarations are made without justification-- but because stakeholders are insufficiently equipped to respond, time-constrained, exhausted from overwork, and accustomed to being ignored by the administration, few offered any questions.
  6. Thus, even the faculty-- purportedly the best-educated stakeholders-- sit quietly.  Unquestioning. No sifting and winnowing.  Happy to have someone else solve their "problems," especially if it means money will soon enter their pockets.
  7. And with that, university administration has "engaged" its publics in the relevant discussions and can proceed with its plans.  It will pass the new agenda through all channels and deliver it, fully rubber-stamped, back to the gleeful Legislature.
  8. Thus, we in higher education have "helped ourselves." 
  9. Fast forward 5 years:  in many units, the gap in pay between research staff employed in high-demand fields and those assisting with teaching and learning will have grown.  Substantial numbers of jobs will move from employee to contractor status, since the new system guarantees a living wage only to employees-- not contractors-- and as we know, living wages are expensive! The number of mid-level bureaucrats (managers) on campus will have doubled and increased their power, as they now control budgets through their special analyses of employees' market value.  But it will be impossible to document all of these changes since the data will continue to be held in an administrative unit that decides how it displays results and is only required to respond to request from administrators, not employees. 
But don't worry, folks, this isn't corporatization.

And never fear, since shared governance will continue to reign.  If by that term, you mean that employees will have "input."


1. Bob Lavigna pronounced the HR plan "not corporatization" three times during yesterday's Faculty Senate meeting.
2. While Lavigna said that shared governance meant "joint decision-making" (in response to a question I raised) the HR plan never mentions joint decision-making and instead mentions "input" 19 times.

Monday, October 1, 2012

More Questions on HR Design

In advance of this afternoon's meeting, I received this very helpful document from the Wisconsin University Union, which summarizes the HR Design plan elements and how they compare to current practice, while raising some critical questions about each element.

Here are some questions that I think are especially deserving of response:

  • Will the university staff assembly, created by HR Design, preempt or potentially undermine the re-establishment of unions?  
  • Why aren’t all contractors (over $5K) included in the living wage provisions, consistent with the City of Madison policy? UW has shifted to using contractors for custodial and food-service positions, and currently pays custodians just $8/hour. 
  • What provisions prevent a hiring authority from defining the “employing unit” as so limited as to “force” a layoff? 
  • What is the evaluation plan to assess the impacts of these radical changes?