[Marxism] U. of Wisconsin Faculty Members Fear Gutting of Tenure

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Feb 5 07:23:03 MST 2016

(Maybe this will finally get tenured professors to make common cause 
with adjuncts.)

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 

Overcoming Uncertainty

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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