Tenure Draft and Survey Controversy at UW Madison

September 16, 2015

After months of uncertainly about the future of tenure at their institution, faculty members at the University of Wisconsin at Madison received a draft tenure policy proposal this week asserting that the faculty holds the authority to make academic program changes of the sort that could lead to layoffs under a new state law, Madison.com reported. Proponents of the policy say its protections of tenure put it line with peer institutions and guidelines established by the American Association of University Professors.

The university’s administration pledged earlier this summer that it would find ways to preserve tenure as it’s known at Wisconsin, despite recent legislative changes in the state that make it easier for tenured faculty members to be terminated. The executive committee of the university’s Faculty Senate said the new policy “is solidly grounded in the strong tenure tradition at Madison, codifying existing practice of broad involvement in program change and clearly delimiting the narrow parameters under which such change could lead to faculty dismissal.”

Also this week, some faculty members within the University of Wisconsin System objected to a survey of their views on tenure sent from William Howell, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. Howell obtained faculty members’ email addresses via an open records request, but professors complained that he didn’t sufficiently disclose funding sources for the survey, which includes such questions as how much professors would accept in terms of a pay increase for giving up tenure. On Tuesday, the secretary of the faculty at the Madison campus emailed professors to say that the survey was funded by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a think tank that describes itself as nonpartisan but which has promoted conservative ideas and has ties to Governor Scott Walker. Faculty members expressed their concerns on Twitter and elsewhere.

Howell said via email, “The only purpose of the survey is to characterize faculty opinion on tenure policy and some policy alternatives to it. This is a live issue in Wisconsin, and I am only hoping to make sense of the range of opinions that faculty have about it.”

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