AAUP Resolution on Wisconsin Attacks on Academic Freedom and Shared Governance

This morning at the AAUP Annual Meeting, the following resolution passed unanimously:

Proposed Actions by Wisconsin State Legislature to Weaken Academic Freedom and Shared Governance in University of Wisconsin System

By this resolution, the 101st Annual Meeting of the American Association of University Professors adds its grave concerns to those currently being voiced throughout the world of higher learning regarding the proposals for actions by the Wisconsin legislature later this month. The University of Wisconsin’s special reputation for independent in seeking the truth dates back to 1894, when its governing board, resisting pressures to dismiss a famous dissenting professor, expressed its belief that the university “should ever encourage that continual fearless sifting and winnowing by which the truth can be found.”

The current proposals threaten to discourage what the nineteenth-century board so eloquently encouraged. They require the legislature to “delete current law specifying that the faculty of each institution be vested with responsibility for the immediate governance of such institution.” They allow the governing board to terminate tenured faculty appointments in the event of “a program or budget decision regarding program discontinuance, curtailment, modification, or redirection, instead of what a financial exigency exists as under current law.” Provision after provision is at odds with the AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure and its Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities.

As AAUP president Rudy Fichtenbaum stated in a letter to the chair of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents and the president of the University of Wisconsin System, “These changes in tenure and due process and the $250 million proposed cut to the UW System amount to a direct attack on higher education as a public good.”

The Annual Meeting calls on faculty members in the University of Wisconsin System and their faculty colleagues throughout Wisconsin to work with students, alumni, and community leaders to organize resistance to these proposals and to demand that they be rejected. We also call on the regents and administration of the University of Wisconsin System publicly to state their opposition to these proposals and to resist their implementation if they are approved.

Beyond Wisconsin, the Annual Meeting also calls on faculty members throughout the United States to support our Wisconsin colleagues to ensure that similar proposals do not gain traction elsewhere.

Should these proposals become law, the Annual Meeting also calls on the leadership of the AAUP to consider appropriate responses to this attack, including the organization of faculty resistance.

17 thoughts on “AAUP Resolution on Wisconsin Attacks on Academic Freedom and Shared Governance

  1. I am always taken aback by the opposition to any change, of any kind from the folks of academia. Fichtenbaum states: ” “These changes in tenure and due process and the $250 million proposed cut to the UW System amount to a direct attack on higher education as a public good.” Others involved, such as Chancellor Blank, proclaim that because something has been in place for a century, then by golly, we best not change.

    Yet, the social engineers of academia are constantly demanding everyone else change. Gay marriage, micro-aggression mumbo jumbo, no smoking under oak trees, affirmative action, speech codes, conduct policies, and on and on the social engineering machine goes. Mind you, I am not saying some of these engineering schemes were not worthy… but is it not curious that academia hangs on tooth & nail to an antiquated administrative framework, while demanding everyone else alter their behavior & lifestyle continually??? It really comes off as a we bit more than arrogant and self-serving.

    Certainly aspects of shared governance and tenure are positive- but for every good story I’d wager there are at least three disasters looming. I would bet just about any tenured professor, behind closed doors, would go on ad infinitum about the abject dysfunction embodied by tenure & shared governance. Certainly I’ve heard tale after tale of just how ridiculously screwed up is the administrative framework of academia. And, nowhere else in the work world do we have a system in place that guarantees lifetime employment while allowing employees to pick & choose their co-workers. Pretty convenient system I’d say, which is reflected by the litany of “internal investigations” universities conduct to exonerate themselves of any wrong-doing time and again.

    It is a very privileged and insulated world you all live in… and guess what, that needs to change. I am not alleging the Wisconsin governor & legislature have all the right answers. But I for one, as a life-long academician, am delighted to see someone make a first attempt. Should not equal rights for gays be accompanied by a system of hiring & retention that is in line with the rest of the working world? Equality is for everyone, folks, even when it means coming a rung or two down the ladder to become our equal.

    • “I am always taken aback by the opposition to any change, of any kind from the folks of academia.”

      What a ridiculous charge. Academics, especially in the AAUP, are the ones calling for change:
      We want to change the repression of academic freedom.
      We want to change the corporatization of higher education.
      We want to change the destruction of tenure and expand its protections to all faculty.
      We want to change the massive student debt caused by de-funding of higher education.
      We want to change the administrative control over higher education and increase shared governance and freedom on campus.

      We may not seem like the people bringing change because academics are quite powerless to make the changes they want. But we are the reformers, and you are endorsing the status quo.

      • I understand your passion, John. I am curious, though, how alterations to the tenure- shared governance model necessarily equate to a falling of the sky. I worked a great many non-tenure track research faculty positions, and actually found them to be very enriching and pleasant. Even though I did not have a guarantee of lifelong employment, and I was not allowed to hand-pick my coworkers, I accomplished an amazing amount of work. I also received salary increases to the effect of more than doubling my income within a decade, I had the best of health insurance plans, 8 weeks of paid vacation/ yr and enough sick time for a multi-organ transplant.

        The fact that you began your response with “what a ridiculous charge” seems to lend credence to the notion of an unwillingness to listen to the alternatives. I do firmly believe that the inter-departmental process of hiring and retention is inherently flawed and leads to a great deal of dysfunction. If objectivity is the name of the game in academia, then how can you argue against an external and unbiased process of hiring & retention? And I fail to understand, really, what is necessarily wrong with the ditching of the tenure system. It is not as though faculty would be tossed out of the ivory tower willy-nilly.

        Fortune 500 companies do not become so by instituting ruthless and draconian models of employment… they become successful by rewarding performance. They also become successful by not retaining employees who become unproductive. I just happen to believe that the political witch hunts you all envision coming from this is nothing more than hysteria. This has much much more to do with, as Chancellor Blank put it, losing your grip on the “progressive agenda”. Blank’s comments about a 19th century professor facing political outrage over his progressive tendencies was really very revealing, John.

  2. The AAUP is on record as being against requirements that faculty issue “trigger warnings” when discussing difficult topics with students.

  3. David, you are one of the lucky few adjuncts to receive such great working conditions. Now, don’t you think that other adjuncts should also benefit from those same conditions? If so, then a tenure process for all faculty is the best way to accomplish that.

    You assert that the fear of “political witch hunts” is pure “hysteria.” But even with tenure, we see faculty targeted for their political views. Surely you can’t believe that the result of abolishing tenure and giving more power to top administrators would be a perfect world free from any political witch hunts.

    You claim that “objectivity is the name of the game in academia,” whatever that means. But clearly, a system where academic experts are removed from the hiring process is going to lead to the opposite of an “unbiased” hiring system.

    You’re correct that abolishing tenure probably would not lead to masses of faculty being fired willy-nilly. We could also say that abolishing the First Amendment probably would not lead to mass arrests of dissidents willy-nilly. Does that mean it’s a good idea? Are you so resistant to change that you are unwilling to see our basic Constitutional rights destroyed? Why are you unwilling to listen to the alternative of trusting our leaders to have absolute power over us without any restraints?

    • Perhaps I should have been more clear- I worked under research faculty appointments, not adjunct. I agree the adjunct system is a train-wreck, especially at the community college level. I would never accept an adjunct position. The research faculty appointments I had came with all the privileges of tenure, but no tenure. I did not suggest removing academic experts form the hiring process, but rather creating a process wherein these decisions were not inter-departmental. I have, for example, witnessed many tenure hires that simply were not justified by publication & grant histories, but instead by a significant bias concerning the very thing you want to avoid… political bias.

      Constitutional law & employment law are two very different animals. Employers can & do restrict any number of constitutional freedoms when people are on the clock- this is nothing unusual. And I believe the “on the clock” issue is an important one. So for example, I once had a colleague/ supervisor (tenured) in science that spent the lion’s share of her working hours advocating for gay marriage. While I support her right to do so on her own time, tenure was not a license to shirk workplace duties to pursue her constitutional freedoms. Alternatively, a tenured social science professor specializing in gay marriage rights could very well justify such activity as work related.

  4. The members of the AAUP who voted for this resolution have apparently not read the AAUP leadership’s unilateral dilution of the organization’s until recently longstanding definition of financial exigency for the justification of the termination of appointments.

    Indeed, it is the AAUP leadership which has itself pandered to administrations with a similar erosion of the traditional protections of tenure — and it is indeed most hypocritical for the resolution to criticize the University of Wisconsin when the AAUP leadership itself has adopted “policies” which resemble those under discussion in that state.

    Would that the AAUP membership had the courage to clean the organization’s own house! Unfortunately, the participation rate in AAUP elections has been in recent years almost minuscule, as the majority of the members have abandoned all hope of internal reform.

    Dewey and Lovejoy are turning in their graves. “The AAUP is dead; Long live the AAUP!”

  5. Question: do the radical changes and deep budget cuts proposed by the Governor and the Joint Finance Committee threaten the University of Wisconsin System’s accreditation? Has anyone examined this? In reviewing the Criteria and Core Compoents listed here http://hlcommission.org/Criteria-Eligibility-and-Candidacy/criteria-and-core-components.html I note the following items which could be at issue.

    [Note that I did not perform an exhaustive review of the implications of the JFC’s proposed actions on these Criteria; these are simply items that caught my eye as worthy of discussion and comment. I am expecting that some of these items may in fact not be affected by the JFC’s proposals, and that there may be items that I missed that may in fact be affected. I’m just hoping to start a conversation.]

    1.D. The institution’s mission demonstrates commitment to the public good.

    2.C. The governing board of the institution is sufficiently autonomous to make decisions in the best interest of the institution and to assure its integrity.

    2.C.3. The governing board preserves its independence from undue influence on the part of donors, elected officials, ownership interests, or other external parties when such influence would not be in the best interest of the institution.

    2.C.4. The governing board delegates day-to-day management of the institution to the administration and expects the faculty to oversee academic matters.

    3.C. The institution has the faculty and staff needed for effective, high-quality programs and student services.

    In addition, I think the severe budget cuts call into question the System’s ability to meet the criteria of the whole of Criteria Five:

    Criterion Five. Resources, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness
    The institution’s resources, structures, and processes are sufficient to fulfill its mission, improve the quality of its educational offerings, and respond to future challenges and opportunities. The institution plans for the future.

    It is my humble opinion, given the deep ties to the State of Wisconsin itself via state statutes, that references to “the institution” in the items referenced above could be interpreted to include the Governor and the Legislature. Clearly, such severe cuts do not represent actions to ensure that “[t]he institution’s resources … are sufficient to fulfill its mission” nor are they the actions of an institution that “plans for the future.”

    If it were made clear that the drastic measures proposed by the Governor and Joint Finance Committee threatened the accreditation of the universities of the UW System, it might just cause some members of the legislature to hesitate just a tad to blindly accept these measures.


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  8. Honestly these changes doen’t sound so bad and I don’t really understand how it is an attack on “academic freedom”. As a taxpayer, of course I want underperforming/duplicate programs staffed by underperforming faculty cut. That’s just logical, not an attack on someone’s freedom.

    I’m not entirely sure I fully understand the bit about faculty governance but, in my opinion, faculty absolutely should not be governing a university. We need broadly trained academic professionals who understand the business of higher education making decisions, not narrowly-focused/educated faculty members who are likely privileged, entitled, and completely out of touch with the average students of the modern public university. Faculty barely understand modern universities and education beyond their little classrooms anymore. (There, I said it.)

    I think it’s important to also remind faculty that students are only in classrooms about 15-20% of their time in college. There are a lot of other often-overlooked staff members that work with students and make sure that other 75-85% runs smoothly and maybe those people are better-equipped to handle governance. If faculty want to help run a university then they should go get a degree in higher ed like … people who are actually qualified to run universities are expected to do.

    • Jack Fisher, I’m sorry, but you are working off of assumptions about the roles and knowledge of university professors that do not reflect the reality. Spend some time on campus (not just relying on memories of being a student) and you will see that colleges and universities are not businesses and should not be cast into corporate molds.

      Just as an aside, there really isn’t any such thing as a “degree in higher ed.”

      One of the problems we have now with university governance is that outsiders who know very little of the actual operation of our colleges and universities all think that they know everything. As Alexander Pope wrote in his “Essay on Criticism”:

      A little learning is a dangerous thing
      Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring
      There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
      And drinking largely sobers us again.

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