UPDATE: UW-Madison faculty speaks out on tenure concerns

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UPDATED Tuesday, June 9, 2015 --- 9:00 p.m.

Many UW-Madison faculty members are worried their jobs could be at risk after the Joint Finance Committee recently voted to remove tenure from state law. Tenure offers protection for academic freedom and was designed to make sure people can express ideas without fear of retaliation.

By removing it from state law, the Joint Finance Committee wants to give the UW System and Board of Regents more room to lay-off or dismiss tenured faculty. GOP supporters say it gives the UW System more flexibility to run its own campuses, but some faculty say it's a move that would greatly weaken UW-Madison.

Dr. Dave Vanness, from the Dept. of Population Health Sciences, says, "Make no mistake, this is a coordinated assault on our university system."

By doing away with tenure in state law, and changing language to university tenure policy, many UW-Madison faculty members fear this flagship university won't be able to compete.

Noah Weeth Feinstein, from the Dept. of Community and Environmental Sociology, adds, "As you surely know, we cannot offer salaries that are consistent with our peers and furthermore, we will never have the financial resources to match our private university peers. If we wish to attract the same caliber of faculty, we must offer something else."

But Chancellor Rebecca Blank says UW-Madison has a certain degree of autonomy, and tenure won't be abolished.

Blank explains, "Both President Ray Cross and regent President Regina Millner have given authority for UW-Madison to move forward with writing policies for our campus."

There's concern that won't always be the case and without a state statue protecting tenure, the Board of Regents, which is appointed by the governor, can supersede any campus policy.

Vanness says, "Chancellor Blank, you are asking far too much when you ask us to trust this board to get policy on tenure and shared governance."

That's why a motion was passed tonight by the Faculty Senate, calling on the Joint Finance Committee to remove non-fiscal language from its motion and leave tenure alone. All speaking tonight were in support, except one.

Steven Durlauf, from the Dept. of Economics, says, "There is not any good evidence that the change in the tenure rules to the statutory law will lead to any material changes."

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UPDATED Tuesday, June 9, 2015---12:51 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The University of Wisconsin-Madison is asking the Legislature to reconsider proposed changes to job protections for tenured faculty that have come under fire from professors and others who see it as putting academic freedom at risk.

A lobbyist for UW-Madison was distributing changes Tuesday for wording added to the budget relating to when tenured faculty could be fired.

According to the memo from UW-Madison, its proposed wording is consistent with standards developed by the American Association of University Professors and the policies of peer institutions.

But Republican Sen. Sheila Harsdorf says opponents of the changes she co-sponsored in the budget committee are misunderstanding them. She says the Board of Regents has the power to make tenure as strong as it wants.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, June 9, 2015---9:22 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank says removing tenure from state law "is not the disaster that some people want to portray."

The Wisconsin State Journal reported Tuesday that Blank said in an interview that university officials will act swiftly to ensure that tenure at the state's flagship research campus is the equivalent of its peers across the country.

The Legislature's budget-writing committee last month approved eliminating tenure from state law and giving more authority to university officials to fire tenured faculty. The change must still be approved by the state Senate and Assembly and be signed by Gov. Scott Walker.

Blank says the tenure change, along with a $250 million cut to the UW System, is leading to other universities trying to hire away faculty from Wisconsin.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Friday, June 5, 2015---12:53 p.m.

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- University of Wisconsin System regents have voted to add faculty tenure protections to its policies as state legislators consider dropping those assurances from Wisconsin statutes.

The Journal Sentinel reports Regent Mark Bradley says the board is doing what it is able to do to protect tenure.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee recently voted to remove tenure from state law as it debated a two-year budget. The committee also added language that gives the UW System and the regents more room to lay off or dismiss tenured faculty. The tenure provides protection for faculty members to express ideas without fear of retaliation.

The Republican-controlled Legislature will have the final say on whether tenure becomes system policy or remains in state law. A UW task force is working on tenure and layoff policy to be considered next April.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Thursday, June 4, 2015---1:14 p.m.

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- University of Wisconsin professors and their supporters made it clear to UW regents meeting in Milwaukee that a proposed tenure policy under consideration would still leave them vulnerable to layoffs or termination.

Some professors stood at the back of the regents meeting at UW-Milwaukee and held signs urging regents to protect tenure. 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.

Professors say the universities would suffer significant competitive disadvantages if the Legislature adopts the Joint Finance Committee's recommendation to eliminate tenure protections and turn that over to regents to establish policy.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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Posted Thursday, June 4, 2015---8:47 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A group of University of Wisconsin-Madison professors is appealing to the UW Board of Regents to preserve tenure protections and standards of shared governance.

More than 360 professors have signed a letter that says the university would suffer significant competitive disadvantages if the Legislature adopts the Joint Finance Committee's recommendation to eliminate tenure protections.

The professors say the job protection that tenure offers ensures faculty members are "free to pursue knowledge and express ideas without fear of dismissal." The group also urges regents, Chancellor Rebecca Blank and System President Ray Cross to defend shared governance, which allows faculty, staff and students to guide campus policy.

Blank said in a statement that the higher education community did not have input before the changes were adopted by the committee.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press