Dear Commons Community,
A New York Times editorial this morning blasted Governor Scott Walker’s proposal for weakening tenure at Wisconsin’s highly respected state university system and undermining the faculty’s role in campus governance is designed to appeal to conservative voters whose support he needs to win the Republican presidential nomination. But if this proposal becomes law, it will damage the university, perhaps irreparably. It will make it harder to recruit top-tier faculty members, who have the pick of other institutions that respect academic independence and where they do not have to fear dismissal for taking controversial views or for doing research that might be frowned upon by politicians. The editorial commented:
“It has become fashionable to portray academia as a haven for people who enjoy job security while others are subject to layoffs and downsizing. But most college instructors are not protected by tenure. According to federal data, only 20.35 percent of instructional faculty at American colleges are full-time, tenure-track workers (down from 45 percent in 1975). Colleges rely heavily on miserably paid part-timers who flee the campus when class is finished so they can get to the next job.
Tenure protections were devised in the mid-20th century to protect academics from political reprisals. Current Wisconsin state law respects this tradition, allowing tenured faculty to be fired for just cause or in financial emergencies.
A committee of state lawmakers last week approved a new proposal that would remove tenure from state law, leaving the matter to the university system’s 18-member Board of Regents, 16 of whom are appointed by the governor with the confirmation of the State Senate. Under the proposal, the board would be able set new, vaguer standards for firing tenured faculty: “when such an action is deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision requiring program discontinuance, curtailment, modification or redirection.” Another provision would weaken the faculty’s voice in policy and personnel decisions.
Faculty members have ample reason to suspect Mr. Walker’s motives. Earlier this year, he issued a budget containing devastating spending cuts that also sought to amend the university’s mission statement to make it sound more like a trade school than a prominent research institution. He backed away from the new language after the state erupted in protest.
The Legislature, which will take up the new proposals later this month, can still reject them. Rubber-stamping them would set the state university on a course that Wisconsinites could regret for decades to come.”