David J. Vanness, an Associate Professor in Population and Health Sciences at the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has started a petition to thwart a proposal to destroy tenure as we know it at public universities there. He explains:
In the Omnibus Motion adopted by a 12-4 vote of the Joint Finance Committee on May 29, 2015, the Board of Regents is to be granted new authority, which even if not exercised, by its very existence will create a chilling effect upon the research and teaching activities of our faculty and staff. Specifically, language in point 39 of the motion states that the “… Board may, with appropriate notice, terminate any faculty or academic staff appointment when such an action is deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision regarding program discontinuance, curtailment, modification, or redirection, instead of when a financial emergency exists as under current law.” Our fear is that this language is so broad and imprecise that it would allow for programs of academic inquiry and instruction (or even individually targeted tenured faculty within programs) to be terminated on the basis of political whim and convenience.
This is in an omnibus budget bill, so it’s sure to pass without much controversy. Governor Scott Walker and his cronies want more control over the universities, and this rollback of tenure is essential to their political mission. Those of us who enjoy the protections of tenure, or who hope to enjoy them someday, should use them and sign Vanness’s petition!
You can find the full petition here. Vanness has five minutes tomorrow morning, June 4, to make his case to the Board of Regents that they should “formally adopt policy that the Board shall terminate or layoff tenured faculty specifically and only for just cause and with due process.” Let’s make sure he has the support he needs. Only those of us outside Wisconsin can make it clear just how damaging point 39 language would be for the university unless the Board disavows the new authority they will have.