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Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday, July 10, 2015

Wisconsin Legislature Effectively Ends Tenure and Shared Governance in UW System

As expected, Wisconsin Republicans passed, and the UW Regents implemented, a budget that will impose approximately 250 million dollars in cuts on the system over the next two years.  In addition, the state legislature--at the urging of Governor Scott Walker--has effectively ended the tenure system and shared governance in the state system.

Although a good deal of attention has been focused on the Legislature's plan to move tenure protection from Statute to Regental policy that is not the most significant change they are imposing. Instead they are redefining tenure out of existence.  As laid out in the "University of Wisconsin System Omnibus Motion" the University's ability to fire tenured professors (that is to say without individual cause) will no longer be limited to financial exigency.  Instead, the state has determined that the University can fire "any faculty or academic staff appointment when such an action is deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision regarding program discontinuance, curtailment, modification, or redirection, instead of when a financial exigency exists as under current law." (7)

Put another way, any administrative decision to reduce or redirect a particular department could result in a tenured faculty member being fired so long as there was no evidence that that particular individual was being unfairly targeted.  Tenure remains tenure so long as you fit the vision of the campus administration (and the UW system involves a large number of campuses).  These visions, are of course subject to change.  To be fair, the Regents have insisted that they will, in fact, develop secure tenure policies.  But it is hard to see how they could ignore the explicit command of the State to expand the reasons for termination beyond financial exigency.  And as Lenora Hanson, Elsa Noterman, and Eleni Shirmer pointed out in this post administrators at Madison and in the UW system bear their own responsibility for the cuts and the reorganization that is accompanying them.

At the same time, the "Omnibus Motion" reduces the authority of faculty within their own institutions.
Shared governance, role of faculty: Modify current law to specify that the faculty of each institution would have the primary responsibility for advising the Chancellor regarding academic and educational activities and faculty personnel matters subject to the responsibilities and powers of the Board, President, and Chancellor. Inaddition, modify current law to specify that the faculty of each institution must ensure that faculty in academic disciplines related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are adequately represented in the faculty organizational structure. Delete current law specifying that the faculty of each institution be vested with responsibility for the immediate governance of such institution and actively participate in institutional policy development. (6)

And lest anyone have any doubts about what this might mean they "Omnibus Motion" also makes clear that  as concerns shared governance in general " specify that, with regard to the responsibilities of the faculty, academic staff, and students of each institution, "subject to" means "subordinate to."" (7)

Governor Walker is expected to sign the budget in the next couple of days because he wants to officially start his campaign for the Republican nomination for President.  Wisconsin's Republican legislators (as far as I can tell there was no Democratic support for the budget) have managed to turn their backs on the long history of the University of Wisconsin as a crucial site of faculty authority and socially controversial research and teaching.  Following other attacks on higher ed and on faculty in Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oregon and elsewhere it is clear that Wisconsin does not stand alone.  But they are at the center of the issue.


California Policy Issues said...

Faculty at Wisconsin had better learn their cheeses:


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