A group of University of Wisconsin students protested Friday’s Board of Regents education committee meeting, sending the meeting into recess while they relayed their message regarding issues of diversity within the UW System.
About 25 Black Out protesters shouted a list of five demands targeting issues of diversity before being cleared out by UW Police Department, in one of two demonstrations surrounding the committee’s meeting.
The protesters’ demands included a public admission of failure to address diversity issues by UW System leadership, the creation of a diversity oversight committee composed entirely of students of color and the creation of a diversity task force.
Before the meeting, faculty and staff also protested changes to the UW System’s tenure policy.
United Faculty and Academic Staff assembled to rally outside Union South for an hour before the meeting, protesting alteration of tenure to comply with new state statutes. Rally participants represented several organizations including American Association of University Professors, American Federation of Teachers Wisconsin, graduate student union TAA and UW System institutions.
Participants gathered to voice their concerns regarding the tenure policy and later delivered 750 signatures gathered for the AFT Wisconsin statement on tenure. AFT president Kim Kohlhaas said faculty and staff worked diligently on campuses, and giving them tenure should not be a privilege but a requirement. Limiting tenure would limit their ability to provide quality education and voice their thoughts, she said.
“Enslaved teachers cannot teach a free society,” Kohlhaas said.
According to the statement, AAUP and AFT Wisconsin called upon UW System and Board of Regents to terminate tenured and probationary faculty only for just cause, and based on rigorous faculty review standards. The statement said tenure policies should be upheld equally across UW System institutions.
The statement also said tenured and probationary faculty should not be fired due to changes in the budget, except in the case of a financial emergency. In this case, the faculty should be responsible for determining changes in their campuses especially if they led to layoffs.
Carl Sack, member of TAA, said at the rally, graduate students were also affected by the tenure policy. Sack said it is important that graduate students have strong learning environments which also allow them to teach without fearing future job security.
“Our fight for job security and academic freedom is your fight for job security and academic freedom,” Sack said.
Inside the meeting
During the meeting, a task force led by John Behling presented draft resolutions on tenure to the education committee, which he said would create a policy that keeps faculty accountable while staying competitive with peer institutions.
In his presentation, Behling highlighted new procedures regarding faculty dismissal in the event of fiscal emergency or program discontinuance. He said the new process would still allow two appeals for faculty and maintain their right to due process. Behling said UW System must strive to meet the standards of accountability set by state legislators or face further harm.
“Without the demonstration of accountability, whether real or perceived, the budget situation will not improve,” Behling said.
The committee then unanimously supported a new tenure policy based on Behling’s recommendations, which will be voted on by the full Board of Regents in March.
Responding to issues of diversity
UW System President Ray Cross later acknowledged diversity shortcomings in a statement.
“Are we where we need to be? No. Have we hit all the benchmarks and goals we set in the past? No, we have not,” Cross said.
Issues of diversity continue to trouble him, he said, and that a diversity council, comprised of “various stakeholders” is in the process of being formed. He said he looks forward to continue working in a “spirit of partnership” to address issues of diversity.