On Friday afternoon, a neutron bomb was lobbed in the rapidly escalating war on the University of Wisconsin. The Joint Finance Committee revealed, and then quickly approved, an omnibus budget motion for UW System that not only sustains $250 million of Governor Walker’s proposed $300 million biennial cut, but for good measure is also larded with elaborate and intrusive non-fiscal policy items, some of which put the future of shared governance and tenure in grave doubt.
The faculty advocacy organization PROFS responded on Saturday with a preliminary statement pointing out in broad-brush terms the damage that will be caused not only the precipitous budget cut but also by unexpected attacks on both shared governance and tenure. It postponed a more specific response until the implications of key details could be digested and placed into context.
It has been known for months that shared governance and tenure would likely be taken out of statute by a Legislature, purportedly as a byproduct of the public authority proposal. The assurance given repeatedly to faculty and academic staff representatives by UW System officials, going back as far as January, was that these provisions would be fully restored in Board of Regent policy, admittedly demoting UW from being the only university in the country with shared governance and tenure proudly enshrined in law but at least placing it on par with the many other universities for which these things were always defined and protected by their respective boards.
Indeed, on March 5, the UW Board of Regents quickly passed a resolution promising to do exactly that.
It may well have been at that precise moment that legislative leaders decided that more aggressive measures would have to be taken to eviscerate not only the statutory authority for tenure and shared governance but also to constrain the Board’s ability to carry them over without modification into Board of Regent policy.
When the omnibus motion was unveiled on Friday afternoon, it was found to be full of disheartening and sometimes baffling provisions (why would the JFC want to remove statutory language forbidding campuses from unwisely using students’ social security number as their student ID number?). The implications of many of these remain to be worked out.
Especially jarring was item #38, stating that, henceforth, shared governance would be defined as “subordinate to” the executive power of the chancellors.
But the stunner was item #39:
39. Layoff due budget or program decision. Modify current law to specify 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.
Today, PROFS issued a statement specifically in response to item #39. It speaks for itself and can be read in its entirety here [PDF].