One of two proposals presented at the University of Wisconsin Faculty Senate meeting Monday would protect faculty members’ rights to speak out against the university.
UW professor of political science Donald Downs introduced the proposed addition on free speech protection to the Senate, citing a 2006 Supreme Court decision as the motivation for the change.
In the decision, the court upheld the state’s penalization of a state employee for publicly stating in a memorandum his office had not been operating as effectively or efficiently as it could be.
Downs said while he has never felt his job was threatened because of opinions he has expressed, he thinks it is important to codify rules that say UW employees have academic freedom to speak out on various issues.
“Our motion’s concern is to provide protection for those speaking out against the university,” Downs said. “Our faculty members do not always keep their mouths shut.”
UW history professor John Sharpless said he strongly supports adding this language into the Faculty Policy and Procedures.
Sharpless, who characterized himself as a “supreme court watcher,” said this ruling was very off-putting, and he thinks UW faculty need to be protected from the same fate.
“It seems to me we’ve long needed a stronger statement of academic freedom,” Sharpless said. “I think it’s important that we be able to speak on those issues as citizens and not risk losing our positions as faculty.”
UW history of science professor Eric Schatzberg described the implications of the court ruling as “corrosive,” agreeing with Sharpless that UW faculty must protect their freedoms.
He said the ruling goes beyond forcing faculty to fear losing their jobs. The ruling could have negative implications for students at UW.
UW has a strong tradition of academic freedom, Schatzberg said, and the ruling could cause professors to watch what they say in the classroom, limiting their students’ exposure to different viewpoints and opinions. He said he thinks this addition to the FPP would protect UW’s traditions.
Another proposed addition to FPP would give researchers at the Morgridge Institute for Research, the private portion of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, the possibility to become faculty at UW.
Chair of the University Committee Bill Tracy introduced this addition. The addition would be placed in a portion of the FPP that allows state and federal employees to become members of the faculty.
UW oncology professor Janet Mertz worried the researchers may run into problems federal employees have had, such as not being able to teach. She also expressed concern over what would happen when tenured professors’ contracts at the Morgridge Institute ran out.
Tracy assured Mertz problems other people have had performing their duties as faculty members were related to restrictions imposed by their employer, and UW will not stop these people from teaching or performing other duties as a faculty member.
He also said if Morgridge stopped paying their salary, they are no longer tenured members of the faculty at UW.