That From Which Dreams Are Made

local Wisconsin, like most states, publishes sets of scorecards measuring students’ progress. (The overwhelming majority of school districts – 91% – at least meet expectations. Our local district falls within this common group; a few particular schools are admirably above it.)

Yesterday, the district announced the latest results, after the state’s Department of Public Instruction made them public twelve days earlier. The district announcement brings two points to mind, one small and one large.

First the small: an obvious coordination in the announcement on the same day (district news release, district automated calls announcing the release, and school board member’s use of his ersatz news site to promote uncritically that same release) offers yet another example supporting my view from yesterday on conflicts of interest (seeConflicts of Interest Don’t Explode, They Corrode).  I almost feel as though I should offer my thanks to all concerned.

And yet, and yet, there’s a second, larger point: these state scores are not the substantive learning – often immeasurable – on which hopeful adventure and exploration depend.  Last month, I wrote about James Fallows’ Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed, and his eighth sign seems especially relevant:

8. They have unusual schools. Early in our stay, we would ask what was the most distinctive school to visit at the K–12 level. If four or five answers came quickly to mind, that was a good sign.

The examples people suggested ranged widely. Some were “normal” public schools. Some were charters. Some emphasized career and technical training, like Camden County High School, in Georgia. Some were statewide public boarding schools, like the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, and the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Sciences. Some were religious or private schools. The common theme was intensity of experimentation.

(See, from this website, James Fallows on ‘Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed’ (Part 1) and (Part 2).)

There it is, honest to goodness: success for students – and so for a community – comes from distinctive programs and distinctive study, from which particular scores are merely imperfect (sometimes misleading) measurements.

This community – like countless misguided communities – mistakes the map for the terrain. People don’t walk through a map, of course: they walk, variously, through woods, fields, mountains, or beaches.

Scholastic scores like these are touted in communities either through ignorance, a pandering to the ignorance of others, or for futile competitive advantage (which often combines the first two reasons).   Whitewater’s been using this public-relations approach for years, to no clear advantage for students or the community.

There are so many subjects, considered so many times, that are more important than a few charts from a state agency.

The academic exploration that underlies a mere chart is that from which dreams are, truly, made.

Contrasting Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel and Media Relations Director Sara Kuhl

In December, Laura Dunn, Esquire and four of her clients, all with experiences within Wisconsin as sexual assault survivors, met with Wisconsin’s Attorney General, Brad Schimel, to discuss their concerns about how the UW System is addressing sexual assault complaints. SeeUW sexual assault survivors meet with AG, seek meeting with UW system leaders @ Channel 3000.

(One of Ms. Dunn’s clients appearing on camera is from UW-Whitewater; at least one other client of hers, to my knowledge, is also from UW-Whitewater.  That second client gave an audio interview to WISC-TV on 3.19.15, but was not part of the December 2015 video interview.)

Repeatedly, officials at UW-Whitewater and in the UW System have insisted that they cannot speak with the assault survivors who have pending federal Title IX claims against UW-Whitewater (there are now two) or the UW System (there are at least three more against other UW System schools).

This is simply absurd as a matter of law.  Not simply absurd, but manipulatively, mendaciously absurd.  There is no general prohibition whatever, in law or in legal practice, against talking or meeting with adversarial or potentially adversarial claimants.  In fact, these kinds of meetings and discussions happen commonly between opposing sides in all sorts of legal matters.

To believe otherwise, one would have to believe that Brad Schimel, Attorney General of the State of Wisconsin, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Law, an accomplished county prosecutor having conducted over one-hundred fifty jury trials, who has chaired the Wisconsin Crime Victim Council and Sexual Assault Response Team, somehow has a weaker grasp of the law than Sara Kuhl, a university public-relations woman and sometime proprietor of 2Kuhl Public Relations.

(Now I’m libertarian, not a Republican, so A.G. Schimel and I would likely disagree over points here and there.  Nonetheless, there is simply no imaginable circumstance in which I would reject Mr. Schimel’s assessment of what’s legally possible for Ms. Kuhl’s view.  In fact, to take the measure of Ms. Kuhl’s position, in her view the request of Laura Dunn, Esq. [University of Maryland Law and Adjunct Professor at that same school] for a meeting is, also, unjustified in legal practice. That’s absurd, too.)

Ignoring these claimants is contrary to conventional legal practice, perpetuates a response of collective silence in the face of individual grievances, and asks the community to reject the views of accomplished, qualified attorneys for the sake of shallow sophistry.

About That Accreditation at UW-Whitewater…

Last week, UW-Whitewater’s administration announced, in oddly grand terms, the results of an accreditation review from the HLC.  (That would be the ‘Higher Learning Commission,’ one of dozens of self-designated accrediting organizations of the same ilk.)  One reads that the accreditation was ‘a weighty stamp of approval’ of our campus administration’s actions. The accreditation was nothing of the kind. Much of it relies on supposed ‘evidence’ of good conduct that is, in fact, evidence of nothing truly happening on campus. Nothing.

For sexual assault survivors, in particular, the HLC accreditation is a dishonest fig leaf.

Consider how the HLC report finds ‘evidence’ of ethical conduct:

2 – Integrity: Ethical and Responsible Conduct

The institution acts with integrity; its conduct is ethical and responsible.

2.A – Core Component 2.A

The institution operates with integrity in its financial, academic, personnel, and auxiliary functions; it establishes and follows policies and processes for fair and ethical behavior on the part of its governing board, administration, faculty, and staff.

Rating

Met

Evidence

The University of Wisconsin – Whitewater maintains a deep commitment to integrity and ethical conduct as evidenced by a number of documents including those related to a long history of shared governance, inclusive decision making, equal opportunities, and personnel rules for UW-W faculty and staff. Meetings with deans, other academic leaders, faculty and staff confirm the commitment.

Board of Regents policies further support a high standard of integrity as outlined in Board of Regents Measures to Eliminate Racism, Consensual Relationships, Gender Discrimination, Harassment & Retaliation and a variety statutes listed in Chapter 19 of the Wisconsin Statutes.

Emphasis mine.

For the HLC, evidence of proper local conduct is a document or – honest to goodness, wait for it – a state statute.

No, and no again: only actual ethical conduct is evidence of actual ethical conduct.  Documents and statutes are no evidence whatever of how local administrators or others are behaving.  Only how they behave is evidence of how they’re behaving.

Imagine, for example, that Martians visited the United States in 1925, and wanted to learn about the behavior of Americans from that time.

Mars_23_aug_2003_hubbleLet’s suppose that the leader of the Martian expedition sent field workers across America to learn about how residents of the United States lived in 1925. Out the extraterrestrial field workers went, to explore this country.

Upon their return to the Martian spacecraft, an elderly Martian asks the field workers a few questions, among them a question about Americans’ drinking habits.

“Do Americans consume alcoholic beverages?’ the Martian leader asks.

“No,” replies one of the Red Planet’s investigators. “No one in America drinks any alcoholic beverages.”

“How do you know this?” asks the elderly Martian. “What evidence have you found?”

“Well,” say the younger ones, “we checked, and these Americans have a constitutional amendment1 that forbids consumption of alcohol, so we know that there is no drinking of alcohol among them.”

No one who values learning and reasoning would settle for the young Martians’ supposed evidence about alcohol; no one who values learning and reasoning should settle for this feeble claim of good-conduct-because-the-rules-say-so.   This administration’s proffer of evidence is an embarrassment to higher learning, and unworthy of so many deserving students and faculty.

Sadly, there’s even worse in the HLC report, on page 54 (page 7 of the ‘Compliance Team Template’):

As is the trend nationwide, there appears to be a concern about the number of unwanted sexual advances.

These bland words are simultaneously despicable and false.  They’re false because they describe concern about ‘unwanted sexual advances’ when the actual concern is about rape and about administrative handling of rape cases.  They’re despicable because the brief mention of the subject does all it can to minimize the seriousness of injury to people, and also the seriousness to those who are accused, too (‘appears to be a concern,’ ‘as is the trend nationwide’ and the euphemism ‘unwanted sexual advances’).

Hundreds of millions are spent at this public institution, including sums for poorly-written press releases.  A career in feeble, mendacious excuse-making is an unworthy one.

UW-Whitewater’s students, faculty, and Whitewater’s residents deserve a better administration than this.

1. In fact, the Martians would have been wrong even about what the Eighteenth Amendment, on its face, required.  That now-repealed provision actually restricted only the ‘manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors,’ rather than their consumption.  Not only would they have been wrong to rely on the Eighteen Amendment as evidence that Americans didn’t drink, but they also would have read the Amendment incorrectly.

‘WEDC has been a disaster from the get-go’

After years of defending the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, one newspaper (out of several in the area) finally concedes the obvious:  ‘WEDC has been a disaster from the get-go.’

See, from 11.28.15, http://www.gazettextra.com/20151128/our_views_consider_two_steps_for_salvaging_state8217s_job_creation_agency, subscription req’d.

Yes, it has been a disaster, as politicized intervention in the economy, to the benefit of one’s well-fed, white-collar executive friends, will prove to be.

Only eighteen months ago, when it should have been clear to a properly read man or woman that WEDC was conceptually wrong, Whitewater’s leading officials touted a second round of WEDC funding as though it were manna from God:

“For us to have gone through that first cycle so quickly means a lot of jobs and new entrepreneur start-ups here in Whitewater, including here in the Innovation Center,” he said. “This is a recognition of a great success story. They have invested in us a second time. Our job now is to drive that to even greater success.”

– Jeff Knight, Whitewater CDA Chairman

“I am selfish,” he said. “The reason I am selfish is that I want Whitewater to be a better city and our university to be a better place. Part of what we do is try to make this a better place to live, work, play and learn. I think that is very important. For the university, my selfish thing is that I want to keep the professors here, and keep our graduates here, and whatever we can do to make that happen, we need to do.”

– Richard Telfer, Chancellor, UW-Whitewater

It feels a bit like déjà vu to be standing here before you all today,” Clapper continued. “It’s been a little over a year since our first event; today, we are celebrating the start of round two and the first grants of that round….”

“In the physical sciences, a catalyst is defined as any substance that works to accelerate a chemical reaction,” Clapper explained. “Without the help of a catalyst, the amount of energy needed to spark a particular reaction is much greater. When a catalyst is present, the energy required for the reaction is reduced, making the reaction happen more efficiently. Without the help of a catalyst, chemical reactions might never occur or take a significantly longer period of time to react.

– Cameron Clapper, Whitewater City Manager

See, from 6.9.14,
http://www.dailyunion.com/news/article_c8e49416-efe6-11e3-b1b0-0017a43b2370.html.

Knight speaks in empty platitudes, Telfer should have stopped after his first three words, and Clapper’s idea of chemistry is more like alchemy.

From the beginning, this was an empty ideology, a Third-World-style cronyism.

Whitewater deserves better.

Another Six-Figure WEDC Loan to an Unworthy Applicant

Across the state, revelation after revelation shows that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has been a mistake, a wasteful political endeavor contrary to sound economics. Locally, support for the WEDC, from Whitewater’s Community Development Authority, Chancellor Richard Telfer, City Manager Cameron Clapper, etc., shows not only that they’re ignorant of sound economics, but so politically inept that they’d pick the WEDC as the vehicle through which they’d assert their self-professed sophistication.

Initial public-relations efforts on behalf of the WEDC (whether flashy from the state or dull from local officials) now look like nothing so much as a coat of paint on a brothel.

Months after Gov. Scott Walker’s flagship job-creation agency was formed in 2011, it gave a forgivable $686,000 taxpayer loan to a Sheboygan company planning to build a combination helicopter and corporate jet — even though the company had no experience in aircraft manufacturing and underwriters hadn’t reviewed the company’s finances in years.

But Morgan Aircraft hasn’t created the 340 jobs it promised by the end of 2015, did not make the promised $105 million investment and is not expected to repay the loan….

See, $700,000 WEDC loan to aviation company unpaid @ State Journal.

On the Whitewater Schools

Today is the first of a series of posts about the upcoming, contested WUSD board elections.  Three candidates are running for two seats: Kelly Davis, Dan McCrea, and Jim Stewart.  In today’s post, I’ll summarize some of my own views.

(I’ve been direct these last several years; it makes sense to state one’s convictions plainly, so that readers will know my perspective.) 

Each of the candidates responded to an election survey, and my remarks will mostly follow the ten questions the candidates received.  It’s easier to compare everyone’s views if there’s a similar order to their remarks.  (The candidates’ replies may be found online at lwvwhitewater.org/elections.html.)

One’s Motivation.  Writing is one of many diverse social obligations from which someone may choose.  It is its own thing, neither prelude nor postscript to other activities. 

To write occasionally about education is not to write about it enough; that one spends less time than one might hope on the subject shouldn’t preclude writing as often as one can. 

Philosophy of the School Board’s Role.  It is enough to oversee the daily work of a broader curriculum diligent and fairly.  This can be done without exaggeration, and where the main subjects of discussion are students over adults, teachers over principals, principals over administration, and administration over the board. 

A good rule by which to live: The higher the position, the greater the obligation, and the lower the entitlement.

There is no virtue in ceaselessly announcing oneself.  It’s a vulgar, disgusting habit.

School Board’s Relationship to the Community.  Treat all people as equals.  We are in a community with vast numbers of very sharp people, as is true in any community. 

It’s a proud delusion to believe that only a few are capable.  Delusion makes for poor policy; pride is a sin.

Some people are disadvantaged, and rightly deserve special consideration. Policymakers and commentators are not among them; they’ve no claim to special needs or entitlement.   

Experience with Budgets.  Libertarians (as I am) believe in less spending not as an end in itself, but as a path to smaller government.  We don’t want less for the sake of penny-pinching – we want less government so that there may be more liberty (believing as we do that a large government makes little room for liberty).

It’s individual liberty that matters to us, and to protect it we seek less of government; to seek less of government is to feed it less. 

Some programs, however, are more worthy than others.  To believe in less overall is not to doubt the need for priorities.

In this community, for example, I’d rather see money for schools than a single dime for some dishonest WEDC white-collar program.   (We’re wasting hundreds of thousands – millions in total – on those projects, as we did on the East Gate project, or any number of other unneeded schemes.)

That’s not our choice, now: these education cuts are statewide in scope.  It’s not if,  but how.  

A consistent philosophy shapes budgets, and assures fidelity to fundamental principles. The fragile deserve protection over the robust, and leaders should take less before workers take less.  I’ll advance particular suggestions when the district budget team issues its proposals.

Attracting Teachers.  It’s a market economy – one will have to stay at the market rate.  That sounds trite, but it’s anything but: no one in this community can counteract the broad competitive forces that draw teachers to one place over another.  Prospective employees are not children – they’ll take their best opportunities. 

(I would never have curtailed public-sector unionization, by the way – anyone should be able to organize peacefully against government.  To the extent that Act 10 has made employees less satisfied, we’ve reduced freedom of association, burdened public employers with a less motivated workforce, and made ourselves less attractive compared to public employers in other states.)

Conflict Resolution.  Whitewater’s key problem isn’t conflict, but rather an imposed, mediocre consensus.   Our forebears did not found this beautiful republic so that we might become a country of quivering mice. 

No one wants a brawl; everyone deserves more than a mediocre go-along-nice-and-quietly consensus.  We should be as talented as the country in which we happily live. 

Most Important Issue.  The budget looms largest, but we should be honest with ourselves that we are not an affluent community.  There are many struggling families with children in Whitewater.  We simply can’t budget the way that Cedarburg does, for example.  We have more children in need by percentage in Whitewater than an affluent community would.

Losing sight of this plain truth would be wrong. 

One’s Strengths.  It’s enough to work hard each day, assessing where improvement can and should be made.  One should be one’s hardest critic.  There’s no time for selling oneself. 

Common Core.  I’ve mentioned a need to discuss the curriculum, but that’s not a criticism of Common Core.  I’ve no objections to it; it seems plain to me that teaching is more than adopting Common Core or an alternative. 

Keep Common Core (by whatever name), but recognize that a set of standards is only useful if embraced with relish, with a taste and commitment and excitement.   Learning’s not a syllabus, nor even a book.  It’s the teaching of the book, so to speak, with understanding and excitement. 

The obsession with testing and measuring every last part of teaching does not impress.  It’s an ignorant person’s idea of being learned, by substituting crude measurement for deeper comprehension.

Be clear, though: there’s every reason to be critical of the flacking of scores, such as ACT scores, for political or economic gain.  A properly-educated person does not owe others their manipulations, exaggerations, or schemes for political advantage.  Funny, that it might happen concerning a school system, a place that should advance the honest use of data.

Education is more than a shabby PR scheme.  Those who take that course deserve not deference, but a rigorous critique.

An agenda, a set of testing standards, even a book is a poor substitute for being well-read, for being properly educated. 

Our Charter School. I’m a strong supporter of our charter school, and charter schools generally.  An inquiry school, for example, can offer a good education for children. 

There we are.

Tomorrow: On School Board Candidate Kelly Davis.    

WEDC’s Development Gurus Fail Again

All Whitewater has heard Chancellor Telfer, City Manager Clapper, and CDA Chairman Knight tout money from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation as though it were manna from Heaven.  We were supposed to see this money as they meant us to see it, as blessing and providence. 

Meanwhile,  each time those officials flacked these public funds, local news outlets drooled over the receipt of this money as though a scientist had rung a buzzer

The agency they’ve touted for their own self-promotion (‘see what gifts we’ve brought you’) is a dishonest failure, taking the money of ordinary taxpayers, giving it mostly to insiders, and then proclaiming that taking as though it were sound policy. 

Yet again, one reads that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has failed to keep track of taxpayer-funded loans for another entire year:

After saying repeatedly last year that they had shored up their shaky financial controls, officials at Wisconsin’s flagship jobs agency have disclosed that they again failed to follow state law and track how recipients of state loans and grants were spending tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. sent reminders and past-due notices to award recipients in January 2014, but it did not follow up on them until more than a year later, according to a letter written by Hannah Renfro, WEDC’s top lawyer, to its board of directors late last month. The notices said recipients needed to provide schedules prepared by an accountant that detailed their expenditures.

WEDC discovered the delay in December during an internal review, said Mark Maley, a spokesman. The agency’s risk management staff “immediately began investigating to find the root of the problem and involved other staff to create a solution,” Maley said.

The staff presented “preliminary results” to agency management in late January, and 77 past-due notices regarding the expenditures were sent to 67 companies on Feb. 13, Maley said. The value of the loans and grants reflected in those notices was $43.3 million, Maley said….

See, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. fails to track how companies used incentives: Jobs agency sent past-due notices to 67 companies.

I almost believe that if Messrs. Telfer, Knight, and Clapper had relied on an agency staffed by apes (chimpanzees, let’s say), they would have found partners at least as competent and honest as they ones they’ve found in the men and women of the WEDC. 

For prior posts @ FREE WHITEWATER on the WEDC, here’s a category link.

Chancellor Telfer & UW-Whitewater Officials: Why Wait 147 Days?

On September 18, 2014, with the support of national-assault prevention groups, law enforcement, therapists & doctors, and actors & actresses, a bipartisan coalition launched the It’s On Us campaign.

The campaign asks everyone to pledge

To RECOGNIZE that non-consensual sex is sexual assault.
To IDENTIFY situations in which sexual assault may occur.
To INTERVENE in situations where consent has not or cannot be given.
To CREATE an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.

The very day after the program’s launch, I posted one the first videos from the campaign, at FREE WHITEWATER, as it appeared in the Washington Post. See, from 9.19.14, that post with video @ FW.

Just last week, on February 12, 2015, UW-Whitewater announced that it would promote the It’s On Us campaign. It’s a good and right thing to do. America is a great and honest nation; we are a people that has faced and overcome many serious problems, and we can do so again.

A question presents itself: Why did Chancellor Telfer and the UW-Whitewater administration wait 147 days to embrace this program?

The campaign was nationally-known and publicized from its very beginning.

The UW-Whitewater administration commands a budget of hundreds of millions, and a staff of ten – ten people – in its Media Relations department alone.

Could they – should they – not have been part of making a local commitment to a campaign like It’s On Us among their highest priorities?

How long would it have taken to promote this campaign months ago?

After all, on September 27, 2014, UW-Whitewater officials, including Chancellor Richard Telfer, Provost Beverly Kopper, and Athletic Director Amy Edmonds had time to travel to Maple Bluff and pose for a photo opportunity with Governor Walker.

Wisconsin-Whitewater Photo Galleries - National Champions at Governor's Mansion
(Provost Kopper and Athletic Director Edmonds are on the right. That’s Chancellor Telfer in the back row, wearing sunglasses. Feel free to click the picture for a larger image, if you should be so inclined.)

In less time than it took for the photo op – even on the morning before it – these same officials could have embraced and launched the It’s On Us campaign at UW-Whitewater.

Now, with just a few weeks until the arrival of Title IX investigators on campus to conduct student focus groups following a federal Title IX complaint against UW-Whitewater, they’ve embraced the campaign.

That commitment and support should have come sooner, with diligence and seriousness, long before a federal visit. That commitment and support should continue, with diligence and seriousness, long after a federal visit.

See, below, a video from the It’s On Us YouTube Channel:

I would encourage readers to donate to the It’s On Us campaign, and to support these and other efforts to prevent sexual violence.

Those who have experienced sexual assault will find resources of support at www.notalone.com.

Chancellor Telfer and the Narrow Limits of Public Relations

Chancellor Dick Telfer’s several years as leader of UW-Whitewater now draw to a close.

In that time, Telfer’s administration – with a staff of ten in media relations – has pushed countless stories in the Daily Union, Gazette, Register, and Banner touting not simply students’ genuinely worthy accomplishments, but significantly his own importance.

That’s Dick Telfer, a long-in-the-tooth professor of education and subsequent administrator, presented to the city as visionary, as innovator, as champion (absurdly) of entrepreneurial activity, an enthusiastic, cheerleading proponent of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s cronyism & white-collar welfare.

And yet, and yet, where did all this sycophancy, all these photo-ops with politicians, insiders, and bureaucrats, get Dr. Telfer and his university?

For himself, he probably has quite the full scrapbook.

For his university, it’s nothing but millions in cuts (perhaps over fourteen-million) and layoffs for others, all the smarmy leadership name-dropping and vainglorious administrative self-promotion notwithstanding.

Public relations doesn’t bring success – dedicated students, professors, and coaches bring success.  On the contrary, the preoccupation with media relations has done nothing to protect this school or its programs. 

The important and worthy work of students and faculty, expressed humbly and plainly, is all that ever mattered, and is all that ever will matter. 

Dick Telfer and his ilk will likely never grasp this, but countless students and professors of the UW System surely understand as much, and understand it very well, too.