UW faculty at odds with Walker facts, procedures

Matt Pommer • Wisconsin Newspaper Association

Gov. Scott Walker is annoyed at faculty “no-confidence” votes against the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents and UW System President Ray Cross. It comes as the university system appears ready to make significant campus-by-campus changes.

Some faculty groups “appear more interested in protecting ‘jobfor life’ tenure than about helping students get the best education possible,” the governor said.

Walker and the Republicancontrolled Legislature took tenure protections out of state law, and the Board of Regents then gave chancellors the power to close academic programs and dismiss affected faculty members.

Taxpayer funding for the university was also reduced by $250 million. The faculty criticism suggests Cross and regents should have tried harder to head off the changes.

The tenure changes are another reflection of Walker’s policies toward public employees. He has gutted much of the union protection for both local and state workers and signed legislation ending the 111-year-old state civil service system.

During his short-lived run for the Republican nomination for president, Walker touted the union change in an Iowa speech. He said it makes it easier to fire workers.

In a late winter e-mail, Cross defended the faculty-tenure change saying professors should not be protected if they “are no longer needed in a discipline.”

Cross has promised the university is developing an “ambitious strategic plan” for the future.

The “no confidence” votes were approved by faculties at the Madison, Milwaukee, La Crosse, Green Bay and River Falls campuses by mid-May.

Walker upped the controversy by citing salary and work numbers. He said full professors at the Milwaukee campus are earning $101,700 for the academic year. When all levels of fulltime faculty are included the average salary is $73,000.

The controversy grew when Walker suggested there were 2.8 students per faculty member. A faculty organization quickly retorted the governor had mixed up the numbers. The number he cited reflected the average of those getting individualized instruction – usually for research projects.

When all students are counted the average at Milwaukee is 29 students per faculty member, according to Politifact. It said the governor’s ratio numbers were “false and ridiculous.”

The “no confidence” movement started at the Madison campus. Sociology Professor Chad Alan Goldberg, who pushed the idea, said Cross and regents “have been complicit” in attacks against the university.

In a letter to the editor, Goldberg noted Walker had tried to change the university system’s historic mission to “search for the truth” and “improving human condition.”

Walker pushed the narrower goal of meeting the work force needs of Wisconsin. The public outcry led Walker to back down, according to Goldberg.

But the recent tenure changes have shifted the university’s focus, he suggested, citing recently approved procedures.

“Whether students get the instruction they need now depends on ‘comparative cost effectiveness’ and ‘budgetary prioritization’ as determined by bureaucratic bean-counters,” Goldberg added.

Walker derides the noconfidence votes, saying, “The university should not be about protecting the interests of the faculty, but about delivering value and excellence to Wisconsin.”

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