Ending Tenure at the “other UW”

UW tenureThe University of Wisconsin was once a great University, a world leader, competitive with the best of the ivies  because of its ability to attract world class faculty.

 That era is passing.

Critical to the success of American Universities has been the principle of tenure.  Tenure, as it is practiced at great universities, is not about an alternative to pay.  Nor does it real have much to do with the faculty’s role as teachers. Rather is a way to guarantee the freedom of scholars to pursue ideas without fear of being fired because of those ideas.

Students coming to a great university benefit from the chance to work with tenured faculty. That benefit may come from the chance to listen to experts whose opinions are free from intimidation by politicians or even from colleagues with opposing ideas.  The USA and the states where these schools exist have benefited by having a source of bright people who spin things off .. from art, social  ideas to biotech and computers.  Of the top universities in the world, only three outside the US rank  in the top 50.

Now, the role of pubic universities in tenure is being lost. On of our great schools, the other UW, is leaving the scene.  In an effort to put a kind face on the story, Ray Cross, system president, said the final Madison policy protects “the principles of academic freedom and sustain[s] the university’s standing in a competitive, global marketplace for faculty expertise.  He was echoed by another administrator, Campus Chancellor Rebecca Blank.  Blank said that what the regents approved “is consistent with our peers. This is important in our ability to recruit and retain our top faculty. … After a difficult nine months of debate, I hope everyone will give this new policy a chance.”

That is not the image as seen by the academic community.  The Board of Regents for the University of Wisconsin System on Friday unanimously approved a set of amendments to a layoff policy for the Madison campus that many faculty members opposed. The changes — such as the elimination of guaranteed severance and the stipulation that the university will “consider” alternative appointments faculty members pegged for layoffs for budgetary or educational reasons rather than “pursue” them — were previously approved by the board’s Education Committee.


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