Wisconsin shifts, expands attack on public higher education

This week the state government of Wisconsin has adjusted its attack on public higher education.  The legislature’s budget committee voted on an important measure which seriously cuts funding, while also sapping tenure.

Key points include:

Drastically cutting funding. The Joint Committee on Finance cut a cut, “reducing” governor Walker’s proposed $300 million slash to a mere $250 million.  According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the new proposal “if it stands would be tied for the largest cut in System history and would mark the fifth time in the last six budget cycles that the universities took a significant funding cut.”

In other words,  the queen sacrifice move is very much in play.

Tenure: the committee removed tenure from state law.  But the systems’ Board of Regents can bring it back. However, note this: “The board, whose members are appointed by Walker, could also fire any staff or tenured faculty member” (emphasis added)

And “putting tenure in Regents policy carries less weight, especially symbolically, than having the ironclad protection of state law, said Noel Radomski, director of UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education.”

University of Wisconsin Superior, Old Main building

Governance: a shift towards central administration.

The committee also voted to make changes to shared governance provisions, taking power away from faculty, students and staff to have a voice in campus decisions and giving more authority to campus chancellors and the UW System Board of Regents.

Inter-disciplinary issues: the state committee called for greater participation in governance by STEM faculty.

Friday’s motion also included language saying that the faculty members in science, technology, math and engineering are “adequately represented” in the faculty organizational structure.

Universities’ autonomy: the committee got rid of Walker’s proposal for increased institutional autonomy, offering instead a package including:

more limited flexibilities would be given to UW to save money on purchasing and the university would be exempt from state rules on building projects funded entirely through gifts or grants.

A tuition freeze is still there.

Some observations:

  • The committee’s vote was strictly along party lines.  It looks like this year’s trend of the GOP warring against higher ed is continuing.
  • The combination of tuition freeze and huge cuts means the system will have every reason to recruit students from out of state and out of country.
  • Academic freedom (for that shrinking minority of faculty who have it) is in the state’s crosshairs:

Taken together, the proposed changes in tenure and shared governance represent a broad attack on academic freedom, said Rudy H. Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors. If faculty members can’t help determine the budget and spending priorities at their campus, they are losing the ability to set the academic direction of the institution.

  • There’s an interesting Two Cultures angle with the committee’s call for a greater role for STEM faculty.  Implicitly this is an attack on presumably politically active humanists and social sciences.  Let’s see if that sets up which programs are to be sacrificed.

(photo by Martin LaBar)

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1 Response to Wisconsin shifts, expands attack on public higher education

  1. It may be time to start considering new metaphors. You only have one queen to sacrifice, and Wisconsin looks to be setting up many more than that.

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