UW system faces raids on faculty if policies change

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Matt Pommer • Wisconsin Newspaper Association Matt Pommer • Wisconsin Newspaper Association Can a medium-sized state like Wisconsin afford a top-flight research university?

That question looms as the Legislature’s budget committee voted to cut $250 million in University of Wisconsin System spending over the next two years. That’s $50 million less than the reduction proposed by Gov. Scott Walker.

Perhaps more damaging to the university’s reputation – on each and every campus – would be removing faculty tenure protections from state law. But under the changes made by the Republicancontrolled Joint Finance Committee (JFC) on a party-line vote, the Board of Regents could opt to restore tenure protection through a new System-wide policy.

Another significant blow to the faculty would be changes in its long-standing “shared governance” participation.

The JFC shifted away authority to have a voice in campus decisions from faculty, students and staff and gave more to campus chancellors and the Board of Regents.

As a result of the changes, the regents, who are appointed by the governor, could fire any staff or tenured faculty member. Under current law, the university can dismiss tenured professors only because of “just cause” and after due notice and a hearing process.

The budget bill provisions also would allow the Board of Regents to lay off any employee, including tenured faculty, if university spending reductions are required.

The regents would get the power to decide whether to have any tenure provisions. But that would still be a stepdown from provisions in state law.

The JFC alterations to the biennial budget bill next go to the full Senate and Assembly, both controlled by Republicans, where the document is subject to change. After legislative passage, Walker can then use his broad veto power to make further changes.

Earlier this year, Walker submitted budget bill language to change the stated mission of the university system. He later retreated, calling it a drafting mistake.

Tenure provisions have been one of the attractions of taking a faculty job in the UW System, which has lower salaries than other comparable – called “peers” – university systems.

Elimination of tenure will make it easier for other major universities to raid the Madison and other UW campuses, faculty leaders warned.

It also will make it more difficult to attract the best and brightest young faculty and their multi-million dollar research grants.

Noel Radomski, director of the UW-Madison Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, predicted the tenure move will have an immediate impact.

“If I were other universities, I’d be poaching as many of our top faculty as possible,” he told the Wisconsin State Journal. “It’s going to be open season.”

Earlier this year in the wake of Walker’s proposed $300 million budget cut, two top selections turned down appointments for key research positions on the Madison campus.

In the wake of the new changes, State Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, said the committee’s budget actions will increase “the bleeding at campuses that are losing quality staff and struggling to cope with the cuts they’ve already absorbed.”

Budget committee co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, said the Legislature wanted to get its “arms around” the state’s spending for higher education.

The current Republican approach to the university spending is in sharp contrast to that which existed when Tommy Thompson, also a Republican, was governor. He was an outspoken champion of promoting the university system.

The current budget squeeze was set in place by two major decisions by office holders.

The state turned down $350 million in federal funds for expanded Medicaid. Walker and the Legislature also declined to slow business tax cuts already approved.

But they may have captured the public’s view of the university. Walker’s answer for less money focused on teaching rather than research grants and star professors. The faculty ought to spend more time in the classroom, Walker has maintained.

Donna Shalala, who was Madison chancellor from 1988 to 1993, found state audiences more responsive to athletic success than research and UW-linked economic development. The Madison campus does have winning basketball and football teams.

On, Wisconsin.


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