UW faculty say new tenure standards could lead to layoffs

Each campus will have its own policy

Last week the University of Wisconsin (UW) system Board of Regents approved tenure policies that faculty members say may lead to layoffs during budget cuts. 

Background

Last summer, the state stripped the UW system of its notably strong tenure and shared-governance protections. 

Wisconsin budget committee wants to remove tenure from law

Wisconsin was the only state that protected tenure in state law, but the new plan allows the Board of Regents to write its own tenure policies. The move was pitched as a way to give campuses more autonomy and the ability to deal with budget cuts. The change in law was accompanied by a $250 million loss in state funding.

The controversial move prompted some faculty to leave for other systems and raised tensions between academics and administrators. 

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

Previously, tenured professors could be fired only during a campus-wide financial emergency or for just cause. 

Wisconsin was the only state that protected tenure in state law, but the new plan allows the Board of Regents to write its own tenure policies. The move was pitched as a way to give campuses more autonomy and the ability to deal with budget cuts. The change in law was accompanied by a $250 million loss in state funding.

The controversial move prompted some faculty to leave for other systems and raised tensions between academics and administrators.

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

Previously, tenured professors could be fired only during a campus-wide financial emergency or for just cause.

The new rules

UW officials will now be able to lay off tenured faculty for financial or educational reasons. They also may discipline professors who don't meet post-tenure review expectations.

Under the new system, each campus will have its own tenure policies—which some faculty members argue will result in uneven protections across the state.

The new policies "will be a critical new tool for our chancellors, to help them better align their resources with the needs of the state without jeopardizing academic freedom or putting us at a competitive disadvantage," says Regent President Regina Millner.

Yet professors say they are not comfortable with the new rules. Regents rejected many policy amendments that would have limited when professors could be fired and when layoffs could occur.

Deepening divisions

The new policy discussions highlighted differing views among the Regents, many of whom were appointed by Gov. Scott Walker (R).

"It wasn't tenure that caused the fiscal crisis," says Regent Jose Vasquez. "The fiscal crisis that we have has been imposed on us."

Vasquez and others pushed back against running UW as a business.

"We are not running cash registers and [students] are not buying Pop Tarts," says UW-Eau Claire professor Geoffrey Peterson. "What we do is far more complicated than that."

But other regents say the system needs to modify the way it runs to succeed.

"The needs of Wisconsin change," Regent Jose Delgado says. "We need resources in order to be able to invest in the needs" (Savidge, Wisconsin State Journal, 3/11). 


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