Guest Post: What Is Happening With Tenure In Madison?
J Doe is a [something ranked] Professor in STEM. S/he chooses to write this post anonymously, in part to make a point about the value of tenure and the protection it affords faculty from becoming political targets.
Many of us in Madison are getting questions about what is happening with tenure, and the national media hasn’t adequately captured the reasons why there is a controversy. Cathy asked me if I could provide some insight, which I will do sort of “politifact” style. I choose to do so anonymously, in part to make a point about the value of tenure and the protection it affords faculty from becoming political targets.
CLAIM: What is happening in Wisconsin is the end of tenure as we know it.
FACT: The authority to define the terms of tenure is being moved from state law to the Board of Regents. Depending on how this authority is applied, tenure could change dramatically or not at all. The worst case scenario (see below) would indeed end tenure as we know it on campus.
CLAIM: The tenure protections given to the Board of Regents are the same as what is in state law. The change merely moves tenure from state law to the Regents.
RATING: Mostly false
FACT: The terms of tenure as they relate to dismissal for cause remain exactly the same. However, some care was taken to define the difference between dismissal, termination and indefinite layoff. Other than dismissal for cause, most schools only allow for termination of tenured faculty for reasons of financial exigency. The proposed new tenure guidelines for Wisconsin include language such as “program redirection” and other vague terminology, and this is what has people up in arms.
CLAIM: This is a dangerous situation
FACT: The addition of language related to program redirection is not the only change happening. Other language weakening shared governance makes faculty “subordinate to” the Chancellor on matters of programs and curricula. The faculty will also now have weakened influence in selecting new Chancellors. The Regents are appointed by the Governor, with the most recent appointee being the son of a Bradley Foundation member. In most states, the Regents set the terms of tenure, but they are not effectively political appointees.
Add these things up, and the Regents could appoint a Chancellor with the authority to unilaterally make program changes and terminate tenured faculty. That is a worst-case scenario.
CLAIM: This is a great time to raid the UW for faculty
RATING: True, if you are an asshole
FACT: Some faculty will be looking to move on as the result of this situation. If you have previously talked about hiring a UW faculty member or are approached by UW faculty interested to make a change, by all means continue the discussion.
On the other hand, if you are suddenly strategizing on how to poach UW faculty, this makes you an opportunistic asshole. Rubbing your hands together with glee as we fight to ensure our ability to maintain a world class university is a nasty way to be. If someone’s house was on fire, would you grab a bucket of water, or would you think about stealing their TV? Make no mistake that your university could be next, so do onto others as you would have them do onto you.