Faculty respond to tenure changes

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By Nathan Kober

Feb. 10, 2016

 

Policy changes granting UW campus administrators the ability to fire staff with tenure was approved by the education committee of the UW System Board of Regents on Feb. 5, at UW-Madison.

The changes are part of the 2015-7 biennial state budget which removed tenure protection from state law, giving the Regents more control over the UW System.

The issue of tenure and its protections are under an expiration date of April 11, 2016.

While the tenure policy approved by the committee has yet to be passed by the full Board of Regents, many faculty members at UW-Whitewater have raised concerns about its possible effects.

“We’re seeing more and more radical policy changes to the UW System without sober-minded consideration from the experts in the field themselves,” Hartwick said. “We, the faculty of UW-Whitewater, are the last and best line of defense to protect the UW System and its great traditions. We owe it to the citizens of the state – past, present, and future – to ensure that the Wisconsin system offers the best quality education for its citizens.”

In regard to post tenure review, the Regents said in the Friday meeting that the proposed changes would allow for flexibility in regard to how schools choose to review their staff.

In her State of the University address in August 2015, and most recently in her Welcome Back message released on the first day of the spring semester, Chancellor Beverly Kopper restated her “dedication to protecting tenure.”

“Academic freedom and tenure are critical to the ongoing discovery of new knowledge and are principles that help our students develop their own sense of critical thinking and discovery,” Kopper said.

The new policies dealing with tenure review say that all members reviewing tenured faculty must have experience and expertise in their field. This is in line with common practice and the general recommendations of faculty.

However, the procedures that deal with layoff have many faculty members concerned. The UW-W Faculty Senate says the policy “injects financial considerations into the definition of educational considerations to a worrying extent.”

The policy allows for firing of tenured staff during a financial emergency, or when a program is discontinued for educational reasons. In the case of discontinuing a program, the Faculty Senate said the educational value of a program should not be determined by fiscal considerations. However, the new tenure policy would assess the educational value of a program in part based on explicitly financial concepts like “market demand” as well as “current and predicted comparative cost analysis/effectiveness of the program.”

“There should be a firm wall between these two things,” Hartwick said.

Another issue is that staff who are under review may be forced to demonstrate their performance in a short period of time, while research projects that show the importance of a program can take years to complete.

“The timelines for discontinuing programs and for allowing tenured faculty to remediate a review are too short,” the Faculty Senate news release said.

The Faculty Senate has said that faculty should be more involved in this process in order to prevent the possibility of “unjust and perhaps politically motivated firings.”

These changes are not related to the firing of professors based on misconduct or performance issues.

There is also concern that the tenure changes, along with the larger budget cuts that make the UW System less competitive with schools around the nation and the world.

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank raised this issue at the Regents Meeting on Feb. 4, saying, “We’re really at the bottom in terms of one of the few states that’s showing declines in investment in higher education.”

Almost every state cut funding for higher education during the 2008 recession, but the majority have now started to reverse that trend and increase support for public colleges. In contrast, Gov. Scott Walker’s commitment to cutting $250 million from the UW system represents one of the largest cuts to higher education of any state in recent years.

The policy changes “may increasingly lead to one educational program being pitted for scarce resources against another,” Hartwick said.

Because of this, some members of the Faculty Senate say that professors are encouraged to look for a job where there is more security.

“I don’t believe this continued erosion of faculty rights will stem the exodus of high-quality faculty leaving the System,” Languages and Literature professor and American Association of University Professors vice president Elena Levy-Navarro said.

The Regents will meet again on March 10 and 11 to discuss the policy changes. The UW-W Tenure Task Force recommends that the final decision wait until December, so that schools have more time to address their concerns.

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