Beginning with the email content; add more thoughts/links in comments.
Many are unaware of similar events that occurred at University of Wisconsin. It was one of our few victories over Walker.
Walker conspired with Biddy Martin (Chancellor of UW-Madison) to strip UW-Madison out of the rest of the University of Wisconsin system. UW-Madison would be governed by a new board, most of whom would be appointed by Walker (i.e. rather than remaining under the Wisconsin Board of Regents). Biddy Martin, who was Chancellor of UW-Madison, had been Provost at Cornell, becoming Chancellor of UW-Madison in late 2008. She basically had an elite public-private model in mind (essentially wanted to remake UW-Madison along the lines of Cornell). Biddy Martin and Walker had negotiated the plan in secret (even the UW System President and Board of Regents were kept out of the loop) prior to the public announcement. Martin and Walker kept talking about "efficiency gains" - largely codewords for laying off a lot of UW-Madison employees (particularly physical plant) and contracting out.
However, they failed to account for "culture". At University of Wisconsin, change occurs incrementally, and most importantly, by developing relative consensus. Change might not occur as slowly as at UVA, but it's still quite slow. And the consensus-style norm, that includes extensive consultation with faculty governance bodies, is deeply entrenched. Just as important is the "Wisconsin Idea" - a Progressive era legacy - under which "the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state". There's constant PR from the university lauding "the Wisconsin Idea". Along these lines, WI residents view UW-Madison as continuous with the rest of the UW System, and parents aspire for their children to ultimately attend UW-Madison, even if they start out their first couple years of college at one of the smaller satellite campuses.
Separate from the "culture" aspect, the politics in the UW community was a mixed bag. Anger at Walker, and anger at the secret negotiations, engendered some of the opposition. Biddy Martin is an astute, charismatic politician, and had previously worked to curry favor with UW-Madison faculty and generate personal popularity among UW-Madison undergrads. UW-Madison faculty were thus split on the proposal. The most politically active members of the faculty senate were opposed. Undergrads were also split - with Biddy's popularity carrying a lot of weight; at the time, the student government was under the control of conservatives, and the student government ended up voting narrowly in favor. The TAA came out foursquare against it, and worked hard to defeat it. UW faculty at non-Madison campuses were strongly opposed, as was the UW System President.
In the end, much of what carried the day was the force of established "culture" - the perceived violation of the "Wisconsin Idea" and the violation of consensus norms in UW decisionmaking. Given what they were hearing from their constituents, Republican state senators and state legislators started coming out against it. The proposal flamed out. Biddy kept pushing it until the bitter end, in an intransigent hubristic fashion - and that tin-ear behavior (she appeared to have no understanding of WI norms, nor a desire to learn or adapt to those norms) also helped contributed to its defeat. Biddy, widely reviled, left to become President of Amherst.
On a somewhat unrelated note - there are ways in which WI is culturally very different from much of the rest of the U.S. (and this would be entirely non-obvious to a visitor). The heavily Germanic ethnic composition is part of this (e.g. Not long after I arrived here, I was taking an Organic Chemistry class with ~25 other students - and discovered I was the only person in the class who didn't speak German. WI is now less heavily Germanic than it was then - but it's still a huge influence). A friend of mine, who is faculty at UW-Madison, had previously lived in Montreal, Seoul, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego - she says she had never experienced the degree of culture shock that occurred when she moved to Wisconsin. One of the things I was thinking of writing about is how this cultural aspect influenced the WI rebellion and Walker recall attempt; and why it would likely render certain strategies (advocated by people outside of WI) problematic/counterproductive.
Another side note: In reading about Otpor - the peeps planning actions were very attuned to Serbian cultural norms and history - making very effective use of this awareness in their actions and choices of symbolism.
Yet another minor note on "culture". When I was restarting communal housing coops in Madison, I viewed one of my most important tasks as helping to envision, create, and model a healthy, functional house culture. Prior attempts at housing coop restarts had failed in Madison - and I think one of the primary reasons was a lack of understanding/appreciation of the importance of culture (and how it organically propagates). People would put all the obvious pieces in place in a rather mechanical fashion, then the restart attempt would fail. Theoretically sound strategies and reasonable house rules were in themselves insufficient - no substitute for attention to the living, breathing, "heart" of culture.
On 6/26/2012 2:41 PM, lambert strether wrote:
> Actually, I'd flip that over. Somebody has to write the manual of procedure (Roberts Rules has exactly the same history) but it's the active agents on the ground that turn the rules into norms.
> Sent: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 3:39 PM
> Subject: RE: An important post in an unlikely context
> Speaks to the importance of having culturally fluent speakers leading movements. I'd be careful about weighing that too heavily though.