University of Wisconsin–Madison

Chancellor Blank statement on tenure

Chancellor Rebecca Blank shared the following statement on tenure on Wednesday, June 3.

“In the wake of the Joint Committee on Finance’s omnibus motion on the UW System budget, I have heard legitimate questions and concerns coming from all segments of our campus community about the proposed changes to tenure.

Tenure allows faculty the freedom of inquiry, to teach and examine ideas and topics without fear of reprisal.

I recognize that many in our community feel unsettled and alarmed that tenure protections are being diluted by their removal from state statute and the creation of expanded criteria allowing for the termination of faculty. I also recognize that these provisions are highly unlikely to be removed from the 2015-2017 biennial budget.

UW-Madison, UW System and the Board of Regents have a long tradition of inclusive and transparent review, input and discussion, particularly when potential changes of this magnitude are being considered. These changes have been put into proposed law without any public discussion or input from the higher education community, which is unfortunate.

I am hopeful that the Board of Regents, which has pledged to act to address this issue, will step forward to create policies and procedures that maintain a level playing field with our peer institutions and avoid the potential exodus of faculty from UW-Madison and its sister campuses.

If tenure is not in statute, it must be in Board of Regents policy with a clear and transparent set of policies governing it. Indeed, almost all universities have their tenure provisions written into the rules and regulations by Boards of Trustees or Boards of Regents. Effective action by the UW System Board of Regents will ensure we can continue to attract and retain world-class educators and researchers, who have a profound impact on the students they teach, the communities they serve and all who benefit from university research and outreach.

I pledge to do everything in my power as chancellor to develop a set of campus policies and procedures to guide the ways in which this proposed statute is used. Removal of tenure should always be a last-case option. Even in the face of program closures – I can think of a number such cases in peer institutions — top-ranked universities relocate and reorganize their affected faculty if at all possible. Most importantly, these statutory changes should never be used as a mechanism to terminate faculty whose scholarship and research is viewed by some as misguided or without value – the very heart of what the tenure system is meant to address.

Wisconsin’s history is central to this system, which is widely accepted and adopted through top-ranked academic institutions and memorialized in the famous “sifting and winnowing” plaque on the front of Bascom Hall.

Our commitment to the fundamental principles of tenure must continue unabated. Our ability to serve the state of Wisconsin depends on it.”