'I'm looking for a new job': Wisconsin faculty brace for battle over tenure

Thousands sign petition to Board of Regents

The fight over tenure and funding in Wisconsin is just getting started.

Last week, state lawmakers approved a measure that would cut $250 million from the University of Wisconsin (UW) System while granting it more autonomy—and more flexibility to lay off tenured faculty.

The plan has been controversial since Gov. Scott Walker (R) proposed the first version of it, which included a $300 million funding cut.

Ray Cross, UW System president, threatened to resign if an earlier version of the proposal passed and chancellors warned of layoffs.

This week, legislators are finalizing the budget before sending it off to vote—but the reactions of stakeholders this week made it clear that the battle is far from over.

'I am looking for a new job.'

Faculty say they are angry—and worried. Some are already preparing to leave.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, UW-Madison professor of educational policy and sociology, says she was drawn to UW because of its strong tenure protections. Her research on college affordability means that she must tackle topics that can make administrators uncomfortable.

"It ruffles a lot of feathers and to be quite honest, it ruffles the feathers of my employer," she tells Wisconsin Public Radio. "And it's only because I've had tenure that I have been enabled to feel free to speak on critical issues that help the people of Wisconsin."

"So yes, I am looking for a new job," she says.

Wisconsin is currently the only state that protects tenure in state law—but the new plan would allow the Board of Regents to write its own tenure policies.

Walker's plan would "cripple the UW's ability to attract and retain quality employees," an organization representing UW-Madison faculty said in a statement Tuesday.

It "effectively will be the end of tenure in Wisconsin," Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. He added that he worries other states might imitate Wisconsin.

Faculty on several campuses passed resolutions this week urging the Board of Regents and UW System leaders to "publicly condemn" the plan. As of Friday morning, more than 2,980 people from at least 36 states and eight countries had signed a petition asking the Board of Regents to preserve tenure.

However, tenure is not being cut entirely, says the chair of the Senate higher education committee, only moved to the Board of Regents. But many remain worried, noting that the Board is appointed by the governor (Herzog, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/4; McCollum, WPR, 6/3).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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