Professors: UW needs to ‘forcefully defend’ tenure

UW-Madison named 25th in world university rankings

A group of University of Wisconsin-Madison professors is asking system leadership to “forcefully defend” tenure and oppose changes to shared governance recently approved by lawmakers in the state budget.

More than 360 professors who have won some of the university’s most prestigious research awards signed a letter they plan to send to the UW-System Board of Regents before their meeting Thursday.

In an excerpt of the letter obtained by News 3, the professors argue that the research mission of the University of Wisconsin is at risk following changes made by the Joint Finance Committee last week. The budget-writing committee deleted the definition of a “tenure appointment” from state law, and also created a provision giving the UW System the ability to lay off or terminate tenured faculty members “when action is deemed necessary.”

Some professors stood at the back of the regents meeting at UW-Milwaukee Thursday and held signs urging regents to protect tenure, according to an Associated Press report. Demonstrators put blue tape over their mouths to show they could be silenced without tenure protection. Dozens of other supporters in the audience offered sustained applause when UW-Madison professor David Vanness told Education Committee members that the “whole world is watching” what happens in Wisconsin in regard to tenure.

The letter argues that even if the regents vote to guarantee tenure as policy, the separate provision would “greatly weaken” any effort.

“In essence, state statute would say that tenure at the University of Wisconsin does not mean what it means at every other institution: a guarantee that university administrators cannot arbitrarily dismiss faculty who have earned tenure through research, teaching and service,” the professors write.

The group asks UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and UW-System President Ray Cross to “forcefully defend the institutions of tenure and shared governance” and urges the Legislature to delete those tenures from the budget.

Blank released a statement Wednesday evening, saying she was hopeful the regents would create a policy that would “maintain a level playing field with our peer institutions and avoid the potential exodus of faculty from UW-Madison and its sister campuses.”

Blank also pledged to create policy on the UW-Madison campus, saying she recognized that it was “highly unlikely” the provisions would be removed from the state budget.

“Removal of tenure should always be a last-case option,” Blank said in the statement.

The UW-System Board of Regents meets at 9 a.m. Thursday at UW-Milwaukee for two days of meetings, and is expected to address the developments on the state budget.