[Marxism] U. of Wisconsin Faculty Members Fear Gutting of Tenure
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Fri Feb 5 07:23:03 MST 2016
(Maybe this will finally get tenured professors to make common cause
Chronicle of Higher Education
U. of Wisconsin Faculty Members Fear Gutting of Tenure
By Peter Schmidt FEBRUARY 05, 2016
Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
U. of Wisconsin educators and supporters protested last summer as
lawmakers considered a bill that ultimately stripped away tenure
protections that had been part of state law. Faculty leaders now say the
policies devised to replace those protections leave professors too
vulnerable to layoffs.
Faculty leaders in the University of Wisconsin system are sounding
alarms that its governing board appears poised to leave unrepaired much
of the damage that state lawmakers did last year to professors’ job
security and shared-governance powers.
The Wisconsin Legislature stripped faculty powers and tenure protections
from state law as part of an overhaul signed by Gov. Scott Walker,
prompting the university system to move to adopt such policies on its
own. Faculty members warn, however, that the policies being considered
by the Board of Regents on Friday are weak replacements for what
lawmakers removed, and would leave professors vulnerable to arbitrary
The strongest faculty objections to the proposed policies focus on their
provisions dealing with posttenure review and with faculty layoffs in
the event of program cuts.
Faculty leaders have criticized the posttenure-review policy as
unnecessary, too focused on possible negative outcomes, and not offering
professors enough assurance that their tenure would remain intact.
'This represents a new vision of what a public university should be. It
is not a vision that I and my colleagues share.' The proposed policies
on program cuts have come under fire for letting such decisions be based
on financial considerations rather than educational ones. They’ve also
been accused of making it too easy for the system to shed tenured
faculty members by starving academic programs seen as not meeting the
state’s job needs.
"This represents a new vision of what a public university should be. It
is not a vision that I and my colleagues share," said David J. Vanness,
president of the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s chapter of the
American Association of University Professors.
But Regina M. Millner, the board’s president, on Wednesday dismissed
many of the criticisms of the proposed policies as unfounded, saying
that they mirror the policies in place at public universities in other
states and that some faculty leaders would have complained about them
"no matter what we wrote."
The board’s education committee plans to discuss the proposed policies
on Friday, to fine-tune them before an expected board vote on them in
March. Given tensions between the system’s faculty leaders and the
board, which consists primarily of gubernatorial appointees, it remains
unclear whether the policies will be tweaked enough to overcome faculty
The proposed policies’ potential threats to job security are just the
latest source of stress for the University of Wisconsin system’s
instructors, who have endured decades of meager salary growth and were
stripped of their collective-bargaining rights under legislation pushed
through by Governor Walker, a Republican, in 2011.
"I wish UW faculty had something to smile about," said Ken Menningen, a
professor of physics at the system’s Stevens Point campus who served on
the panel of faculty members and administrators that drafted the
policies. "We’ve had a string of multiple decades with budget cut after
budget cut, and we’ve been paid below-average salaries for as long as I
can remember, and now it’s easier to get laid off?"
Many faculty leaders say the system’s campuses are already losing their
ability to recruit and retain faculty members. Nicholas Sloboda, a
professor of English at the University of Wisconsin at Superior and the
chairman of a systemwide panel of faculty representatives, said every
campus of the system had seen faculty members leave in response to
tenure uncertainty and relatively poor compensation. Many job searches
underway at system campuses have seen their finalists withdraw in
response to similar considerations, he added.
"A good number of faculty are hoping that this is resolved, so that the
message can be sent out that there is tenure in the state of Wisconsin,"
Mr. Sloboda said. Rather than prolonging the debate over the proposed
policies, he said, "I think we have to face reality and deal with the
cards that we have been given."
Not Dead Yet
Other faculty leaders, however, argue that the policies need to be
drastically revised or else they will only worsen the working conditions
of the system’s professors.
Among the policies’ critics, Mr. Vanness, an associate professor of
population health sciences on the Madison campus, said they "use a
veneer of legitimacy to hide several deep flaws, leaving UW system
faculty in as great a state of uncertainty as ever."
The Faculty Senate at the system’s Whitewater campus has issued a
statement arguing that the policies "violate the standards of American
higher education" and will lead to "an erosion in the quality of our
university, as many faculty whose life circumstances make it possible to
leave may do so."
The American Association of University Professors and the American
Federation of Teachers’ Wisconsin affiliate on Wednesday issued a
statement raising the possibility that the AAUP would censure the system
for any failure to abide by the association’s principles.
On the other side of the debate, Ms. Millner said the task force of
administrators and faculty members that devised the new policies "took
this work very, very seriously." She added, "Clearly, tenure is not
dead, nor ever has been dead, in Wisconsin."
The Faculty Senate at Whitewater has urged the board to postpone a vote
on new policies until December, to allow time for input from
faculty-governance bodies that, it argues, have been given far too
little opportunity so far to weigh in. Until such a December vote, it
said, the regents can keep in place the stopgap measure the board
adopted in response to last year’s legislation, a policy that replicates
the tenure protections that had been enshrined in state law.
Ms. Millner said the Board of Regents had already made an exceptional
effort to account for faculty concerns, going so far as to alter the
agenda for this week’s meeting so its education committee could hold a
special session to make additional policy revisions. She said she did
not want to postpone a vote on the policies past next month’s meeting
because the system will be entering the time of year when it seeks to
recruit new faculty members, and "we want to make sure people understand
that we have a tenure policy that is in alignment with our peer
Costs and Benefits
The University of Wisconsin system had stood apart in terms of how much
its shared governance and faculty job protections were spelled out under
state law. The Republican lawmakers who had advocated the repeal of such
legislation argued that it got in the way of quick, top-down decision
making, hindering the system’s efforts to remain competitive.
Ms. Millner and Raymond W. Cross, the university system’s president,
established the task force that came up with the new policies last
March, after it became clear that the legislature was going to divest to
the system the task of setting the terms of its faculty members’
employment. The 19-member panel included system officials, campus
administrators, and tenured professors.
The system’s AAUP chapters last weighed in on the task force’s policy
proposals in December. Even faculty leaders critical of the task force’s
work give it credit for heeding faculty members’ concerns in several
areas and, for example, incorporating into its policy proposals stronger
protections of academic freedom than it originally devised.
An online forum established by the regents to allow professors to
anonymously comment on the policies makes clear that faculty leaders are
not alone in their concerns. Among the objections raised there, several
faculty members have protested that the proposed policies give faculty
members little incentive to perform well, and do not provide those who
receive poor performance reviews adequate time for remediation. Others
characterize the proposed policies as penny-wise and pound-foolish, in
that the system will need to substantially increase faculty salaries if
it cannot offer faculty members better tenure protections.
"I am so saddened by these policies," wrote one commenter who
self-identified as a relatively new professor on the system’s La Crosse
campus and said, "These policies have made me start looking elsewhere
for a new position."
Peter Schmidt writes about affirmative action, academic labor, and
issues related to academic freedom. Contact him at
peter.schmidt at chronicle.com.
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