Wisconsin Faculty Leaders Oppose Draft Tenure Policy

December 1, 2015

Faculty leaders on three University of Wisconsin System campuses objected to proposed new tenure policies ahead of a systemwide task force meeting on the new guidelines Monday. In a letter sent last week to the system’s Tenure Policy Task Force, chapter presidents of the Madison, Milwaukee and Whitewater American Association of University Professors chapters said that current draft policies “separate faculty from their primary responsibility for educational concerns,” and generally fail to meet professional standards for tenure.

The policy changes come in light of the state Legislature’s vote earlier this year to weaken tenure standards for public university faculty in Wisconsin, which previously were arguably the strongest in the country. The changes made it legal for universities to lay off even tenured professors for so much as program “modifications,” and campus and system administrators have since said they’ll find a way to preserve in university policy what was lost in state law. But a draft of the proposed tenure policy doesn’t ensure that that layoffs would have to be subject to any kind of faculty approval. "It is clear that [the new law] has threatened the reputation of the [Wisconsin system] as a world-class institution of higher education by enabling policies that threaten academic freedom, tenure and shared governance," reads the AAUP letter.

At a meeting on Monday, the task force heard similar faculty concerns about the draft policy. The task force said it will meet again at the end of the month before sending its final recommendations to the university system’s Board of Regents. The Madison faculty last month approved tenure protections that ensure professors only may be laid off for educational considerations that have been vetted by faculty peers, but it’s unclear whether that policy can stand if the board approves a more limited one.

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