Chancellor Rebecca Blank emailed the following statement to UW-Madison faculty on June 7.
“I know there is serious concern among the faculty about the changes in tenure and governance proposed by the Legislature. This is not surprising, given the lack of any consultation with higher education leaders or with the public prior to announcing these changes.
The proposal would remove tenure from state statute. I am pleased that the Board of Regents voted Friday to adopt into Regent policy the language establishing tenure that previously existed in state statute. We can discuss the pros and cons of having tenure established in statutory versus Regental policy, and I recognize that many faculty are worried about this change. This is a conversation we need to have. Almost all of our peers have long operated with tenure policies established by their governing boards.
Outside of the changes to the definition and establishment of tenure, I realize that faculty also have real concerns about the circumstances under which tenure can be abrogated, given the changes in language around layoffs and dismissals. The coverage in the national media (not all of it entirely accurate) has only exacerbated these concerns. I look forward to meeting with the Faculty Senate and discussing these issues at a Senate meeting on Tuesday, and hope as many Senators and faculty attend as possible.
In the meantime, let me clearly reaffirm my personal commitment to the value of tenure. (See my statement from last week.) The University of Wisconsin at Madison needs to have strong tenure protections, consistent with AAUP policy and with our peer institutions. I and others are working to change proposed legislative language that would allow layoffs of faculty for reasons of program modification or redirection. But I’ve also been holding multiple conversations with the System, the Regents, and our lawyers. I’m convinced that – even if this language is not changed – we can write policies for UW-Madison that ensure strong tenure protection. I realize that many faculty are dubious of this, and I hope we can talk about these options in the days ahead.
I will not accept a tenure policy that is inconsistent with our peers, or that violates accepted standards. I pledge to make no changes in policy or practice at UW-Madison until such policy is clearly established.
UW-Madison has a long history of standing up for academic freedom of inquiry. In 1894, the state superintendent of education in Wisconsin tried to fire Professor Richard Ely from his tenured position at UW because of his out-spoken support for progressive views.
The regents of the University refused to censure Professor Ely, stating “…we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”
I promise a more detailed set of comments in a blog to be released prior to the faculty Senate meeting on Tuesday. It is imperative that we are able to adopt policies that allow our world-class faculty to continue that sifting and winnowing of truth that leads to knowledge.”