Wisconsin budget committee wants to remove tenure from law

Funding cuts reduced by $50 million

Wisconsin lawmakers last week approved a measure that cuts $250 million from higher education funding and removes tenure and shared governance from state law.

On Friday night, the Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 along party lines to approve the changes after Republican lawmakers introduced the proposals earlier that day.

The GOP legislators said they plan to finish their work on the budget by this week. Then, it will move to the Republican-controlled Senate and Assembly for final votes.


The vote came as lawmakers sought alternatives to Gov. Scott Walker's (R) budget proposal that would cut $300 million from the state's education budget in the next two years and award the university system more autonomy.

UW System chief: I'll step down if new budget slashes $300M, academic freedom

Walker's budget proposal would exempt the Board of Regents from certain state rules and processes, awarding them more power over construction and service contracting. Simultaneously, the budget would have cut state aid by almost 13%.

Removing tenure was first mentioned by Walker in his February budget proposal.

The changes

The additional $50 million will be distributed across campuses hit hardest by the funding decrease, as determined by University of Wisconsin (UW) leaders. The system would be subject to independent financial audits to increase transparency.

Additionally, universities would no longer be subject to state oversight on procurement and purchasing, a move predicted to save Wisconsin approximately $6 million annually. And campuses would be exempt from state rules regarding privately funded construction projects.

Removing shared governance from state law removes faculty, students, and staff from campus policy and budget decisions, but would allow them a limited voice in issues directly affecting each group. Instead, the measure gives more authority to chancellors and the UW Board of Regents—who are appointed by the governor.

The committee also made suggestions to make it easier for tenured faculty to be laid off or fired, and to give regents the power to lay off anyone if budget restrictions require it.

The board is to approve a measure that protects tenure in the regents' policy next week, say UW System President Ray Cross and VP Regina Millner.

What it means

But giving the Board of Regents more control over tenure carries less weight than the state law, says Noel Radomski, director of UW-Madison's Wisconsin Center for Advancement of Postsecondary Education.

"If I were other universities, I'd be poaching as many of our top faculty as possible," he says. "It's going to be open season."

And when professors leave, their research grants often leave with them, he said.

Faculty members expressed concern. "I feel [Cross] simply lost any credibility with the faculty, and I would think with the public, as well," says Richard Grusin, a professor at UW-Milwaukee.

Wisconsin governor to professors: To make budget cuts work, just teach more classes

The flexibility allows UW to be "more responsive" and "more efficient," says Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R), chair of the Senate higher education committee.

"We are not eliminating tenure. We are moving it to the Board of Regents," she says.

Democrats said the measures would ruin Wisconsin's competitive advantage and slow job creation. "How does this decision help Wisconsin's economy?" says Rep. Gordon Hintz (D). "The answer is it doesn't" (Herzog et al., Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/29; Simmons, Wisconsin State Journal, 5/30).

The takeaway: The Wisconsin state budget committee approved measures that would reduce higher education cuts from $300 million to $250 million, but also remove tenure and shared governance from state law.

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