A new report released by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute recommended the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents considers the necessity of tenure on all university campuses.
The report, entitled “The Trouble with Tenure,” makes several recommendations on tenure for the UW System, including that the system examine whether tenure is appropriate for some universities, and mandated that universities collect data on post-tenure reviews.
Mike Nichols, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute’s president, said throughout the many universities in the state of Wisconsin there is a variety of missions and values. While some institutions may be more focused on research, others may be largely instructional-based, Nichols said.
A survey of 459 faculty members who are not tenure-track professors in Wisconsin found that while respondents believed tenure may be a good indication of some variables, they did not think it was a good measure of the quality of instruction faculty provide, or how tenured faculty affects the economy, Nichols said.
The lack of data on post-tenure reviews leaves a void in information on the number of faculty members that receive tenure and what criteria is considered when making a decision to retain a faculty member or not, he said.
Nichols said it’s also important that the criteria is made public so people can determine whether or not tenure is necessary on an individual institution basis.
“It’s not just up or down, [or whether] tenure is good or tenure is bad; there are a lot of different missions that occur,” Nichols said. “All kinds of different professors who are supposed to be contributing to those missions and tenure may be appropriate [for] some … of those missions and inappropriate [for] others.”
WPRI believes there is not enough data on the accountability of tenure and flexibility for UW chancellors to make decisions on professors who may not be contributing to the needs of the students, Nichols said.
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But Dave Vanness, UW associate professor of population sciences, disagrees and believes tenure is something that is applicable to all UW System campuses despite differences in values and missions.
“Tenure is something that benefits all faculty at all institutions and it’s something that we should seek to expand not to contract,” Vanness said.
If a faculty member can demonstrate the extraordinary service they provide to the community, they have earned the right to make an investment in their long-term career without threat of reprisal, Vanness said.
Vanness added there is a remarkable lack of data collected on tenure, but because there is a lack of data, he said he found it hard to believe the report was equipped to upend the entire structure of the tenure system.
There is not any real data WPRI can produce that demonstrates tenure failing the UW System, Vanness said. It seemed “short-sighted and somewhat foolish” that they wanted to experiment with tenure, he said.
UW System spokesperson Alex Hummel said in an email to The Badger Herald the appointed Tenure Policy Task Force developed three policies that are “comparable and competitive” with other institutions throughout the country.
The regents plan to consider those three policies next week, he said.