Jeff Miller, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Thank you, John Wiley, for speaking the truth as only you can know it.
They say no good deed ever goes unpunished. And so I say to former UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley, though I know he will grit his teeth to hear it, "Thank you."
Late Thursday night I received a phone message from Matt Nelson, an old comrade from student activism in the 90s: "You won't believe what Wiley wrote in the upcoming issue of Madison Magazine!"
Matt is right. I don't believe it.
It couldn't have been written by the John Wiley I once knew. That Wiley was the constant antagonist of students and campus workers. This Wiley used his 3,000 words in Madison Magazine to take on a very different antagonist:
For the last fifteen years of Wisconsin's declining fortunes, the candidates [Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce] has supported for elective office have been the very ones who, when elected, have concentrated their efforts on opposing stem cell research and domestic partner benefits, pushing a cleverly named but economically devastating "taxpayer bill of rights," fussing over the definition of "marriage," hauling universities before staged hearings to defend our efforts to prepare ethnic minority students for the workforce, railing against the personal views of otherwise obscure instructors, resisting any form of gun control, proposing mandatory arming of teachers, demanding the illegal summary firing of named state employees and proposing the elimination of the state's only public law school. What do any of these ideological diversions have to do with "making Wisconsin the most competitive state in the nation"? It's Wisconsin's equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns.
I like this John Wiley. This John Wiley, finally, speaks truth to power. And he doesn't stop there:
Can anyone explain or justify the fact that, according to 2007 Census figures, Wisconsin has 22,966 people incarcerated when our sister state of Minnesota has only 8,757? Are Wisconsin citizens that much more criminally inclined? What does Minnesota know that we don't? How much money could we save if Wisconsin judges had greater latitude for exercising sentencing judgment, or if we adopted control and monitoring measures other than expensive incarceration (about $30,000 per prisoner per year)?
Sounds to me like this Wiley is saying, "Schools, not jails." This Wiley defends academic freedom, affirmative action, the right to organize, tax reform to fund public education, and more. All of these are elements of the Democratizing Education Charter, adopted by over two hundred students, faculty, and staff from across the country at a conference at UW-Madison in 2006.
So why the very public statement now? Why not a couple, five years ago?
Until a couple of years ago, I was also frequently warned or threatened about the need for "the university" to get more involved in providing campaign contributions if we expected any sympathetic reactions, as if I had any role in telling university employees whom to support. That practice, at least, seems to have stopped, probably because of a number of felony convictions for similar behavior.
There you have it. As Chancellor, Wiley believed his hands were tied. Now that he is on his way out, he feels free, a la George Meyer post DNR, to speak his mind and tell the people what he knows and has seen.
It would have been better, far better, had the old Wiley chosen in years past to make common cause with students, staff, and the unions in our struggles against Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. We knew, as Wiley knew, that WMC was the main force behind the education funding cuts that Doyle, the legislature, and their predecessors imposed. We picketed WMC. We lobbied the legislature. We marched on the Capitol in the thousands. We went on hunger strike against the cuts. As Chancellor, the old Wiley would have made a powerful ally.
But regrets aside, I'll take the new Wiley any day. Thank you, John Wiley, for speaking the truth as only you can know it.
And as for incoming Chancellor Biddy Martin: Please read and take Wiley's words to heart. The University of Wisconsin is dying a death of a thousand cuts, and the culprits are clear.