On Tuesday the Wisconsin State Journal published an op-ed piece by John Wiley, who was Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, from 2001 to 2008. Wiley pointed out that “In 1900, Wisconsin was one of only 14 research universities that came together to form the now prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU is now 62 universities, including all the well-known, household name schools).” He then asked: “How did little Wisconsin end up in such elite company? How has Wisconsin stayed there for 115 years?” He then continued:
“Unless state leaders can answer those two questions convincingly, they had better be very, very careful about tinkering with the details of an organization they don’t understand, and one that has been and is critical to the past, present and future of Wisconsin.
“The latest huge budget cut (the fifth in the last six biennia), together with extraordinarily ill-conceived changes in our governance structure, may well mark the start of an irrecoverable decline. It’s much easier to remain on top than it is to climb back after sliding down a steep hill. And the hill is steep, indeed.
“There are now more than 4,000 degree-granting universities in the United States, almost all of which aspire to displace UW-Madison. Wisconsin has been easily in the top 14 of those 4,000 schools by any measure for 115 years — often in the top 2-3 among all universities in the United States.
“Where would state leaders like us to be? Number 100, 500, 2,000, 4,000? Just follow Gov. Scott Walker’s path if that’s what state leaders want.
“It’s easy. It’s mindless. It takes no thought understanding money, or effort at all: just careless stupidity. The rest of the 50 states will applaud if Wisconsin takes itself out of the competition.
“In the meantime, Wisconsin will deserve what it voted for and ends up with, and Gov. Walker can take his run at ruining the entire country instead of a middle-sized, Midwestern state that, until now, has punched way above its weight class and has put little Wisconsin on the world map.”
Unfortunately, it now appears that the Board of Regents will not fight the legislative proposal. Today a Board committee voted to adopt tenure language that had been in state law as regents policy, but also by a 4-3 vote declined to ask the legislature to remove the other controversial provisions on layoff from the budget. “We need to send a message to our faculty that we will be working as hard as we can to make sure this resolution does not become law,” said Regent Tony Evers, who is state superintendent of K12 schools. Evers added that the changes to tenure do nothing to improve life for students, faculty or the System’s shaky finances and proposed an amendment to ask for removal of the provisions. Instead, the committee adopted a replacement amendment which, instead of asking lawmakers to reconsider the tenure changes, would direct a Regents task force on tenure to take up the layoff measures instead.
Evers said the effort would be completely pointless if and when the Legislature passes the layoff provisions into law. “Then, the point is moot,” he said.