The UW System policy on tenure and post-tenure review will feature diverse and competing interests as the University of Wisconsin proposes its first draft on the policy.
A task force charged with creating policy to regulate new powers granted to the Board of Regents by the state Legislature met this month to gather input from UW System schools. Between now and April, the board will face the arduous task of reconciling faculty, campus officials’ and lawmakers’ interests.
One member of the tenure task force committee, UW professor of plant pathology Patricia McManus, said the meeting started off a little slow. There was confusion at the beginning of the meeting, as many committee members came prepared to discuss the lay off part of the agenda and not post-tenure review.
UW presented its own policy that a committee had approved Monday, Sept. 14th. The policy was a good example of the possible ways the task force could write the policy, or at least help committee members decide how they should write the policy, McManus said.
Secretary of the Faculty Steven Smith said the draft policy presented by UW was strong and complied with both the American Association of University Professors guidelines and state law. He said the policy will have to be approved by the Faculty Senate and then sent to the regents for approval.
Smith said the hope is the draft policy will be used as a model by the regents when they write policy that affects the entire UW System.
But what may be important for UW is not necessarily as important for other UW System schools. Each school has their own important attributes, McManus said.
“What makes our task difficult is that the UW school system really has a different mission. For UW-Madison, research is extremely important, for others research is less important, but teaching is extremely important,” McManus said. “It’s a challenge to come up with some unified language that is going to be meaningful and yet encompass the diversity of the System.”
A key factor in drafting the UW System layoff tenure and post-tenure review policy is the Legislature’s perception, according to David Vanness, assistant professor of population health sciences at UW. He said it’s important to take into account lawmakers’ intentions when granting the Board of Regents these powers.
Vanness said while the legislation granting these powers does not specify any intent, the rhetoric preceding it will likely pressure the Board of Regents to write policy that is not overly lenient with tenured faculty.
Vanness said the regents are appointed and confirmed through the Legislature and as such, lean towards the will of the Legislature.
“This is going to be great political theater because you have all the campuses, all the faculty, and they all want policy that is different for them,” Vanness said.
McManus said so far, the Board of Regents has been loyal to UW and the UW System. Many of the regents are Badger alumni committed to UW and all other UW System schools, McManus said.
“The UW System Board of Regents did not have to seek input on this committee,” McManus said. “The reason they are seeking our input is because they want it and they respect it.”
McManus said while the current board may be supportive of the UW System schools, the problem lies in the years ahead when the Board of Regents may change. The primary concern is if the board members as political appointees may be influenced by their personal politics, McManus said.
McManus said in the next 20, 30 or 40 years, the Board of Regents may be entirely different than the one now, and without tenure written into law this could cause a lot of change.
Vanness said the dialogue among lawmakers regarding tenure seemed to parallel the fight against unions. The notion that tenure is perceived as a form of “union protection” or a “job for life” among lawmakers was echoed in the Sept. 17 meeting.
But Gregory Scholtz, associate secretary and director at the AAUP, said this is not the case and that tenure works to protect academic freedom. Scholtz said there is nothing to suggest faculty members who are incompetent or guilty of misconduct are protected under tenure.
He said AAUP provides recommendations for financial exigency when a university has extraordinary financial problems. But he said there are few instances of tenure being dealt with by state governments.
“There is nothing like the wholesale incorporation of tenure code into state law like we’ve had in Wisconsin,” Scholtz said.
Vanness said UW is still only in the early stages of drafting policy to address post-tenure reviews. He said he expects the Board of Regents will finalize policy for both tenure and post-tenure review by April.