Lawmakers in Wisconsin advanced a daring proposal made by Gov. Scott Walker that would eliminate state laws guaranteeing faculty tenure at state universities, a dramatic potential shift that has faculty and administrators up in arms.
The Wisconsin legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 Friday to approve a proposal that would eliminate tenure from state law and allow tenured faculty to be laid off even if a school isn’t in a declared financial emergency. The proposal would also weaken faculty influence in setting policy and would cut the University of Wisconsin (UW)’s budget by $250 million over the next two years, down from a $300 million cut that was proposed by Walker.
The elimination of tenure protections was first suggested by Walker back in February, but was considered a longshot proposal. The Joint Finance Committee, however, is tremendously influential, and its decision to send the rollback to the floor of the legislature is seen as making passage much more likely.
By itself, the measure wouldn’t end tenure, but it would remove the current protections it has under state law and allow universities to set their own policies on the matter. In response, current UW system president Ray Cross said the school’s board of regents will act to enshrine tenure as university policy in a meeting later this week. No statement of the university’s intent can match the power of state law, though.
State faculty are understandably upset about the possible change, and some say the threat to tenure has already done severe damage to UW’s long-term health.
“If I were other universities, I’d be poaching as many of our top faculty as possible,” professor Noel Radomski, director of the Wisconsin Center of the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, told the Wisconsin State Journal. “It’s going to be open season.” If such an exodus occurs, he said, it could put a further dent in the school’s finances, as many financial grants are tied to individual professors and will follow them if they go elsewhere.
Republicans backing the measure, however, have argued limiting tenure protections will give the UW system needed flexibility.
The move comes a few months after Walker responded to faculty critics of his budget cuts by saying that university professors needed to work harder.
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