The parade of “no confidence” votes directed against University of Wisconsin President Ray Cross and the Board of Regents marched on today as an overflow meeting of nearly 300 UW-Milwaukee faculty voted unanimously to approve a resolution of no confidence similar to ones previously passed at the Madison, LaCrosse, and River Falls campuses. UW Eau Claire was also scheduled to vote on a similar resolution today. The resolution made note of the fact that in February UW-Milwaukee had achieved long-sought classification as a Research 1 university under the Carnegie system, “an achievement dependent on academic freedom, shared governance, and state fiscal support for the dual campus missions of Access and Research.” The resolution also charges that “Cross and the Board of Regents by their actions have overseen a weakening of these traditions [of the Wisconsin Idea, robust tenure policies, and shared governance] and engaged in practices that fall far short of principles of responsible governance in their stewardship of the University.”
Chancellor Mark Mone said after the meeting that in his nearly 27 years as a faculty member on campus, he had never seen anything like it. “There has not been anything so important and heartfelt in that long,” the chancellor said.
According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel,
The 17-point resolution was read point-by-point by faculty members around the room, which is intended to hold 175 people. The atmosphere was charged, and it was the first time a quorum of faculty had gathered to take action in decades.
Faculty lined the classroom walls and stood outside, yelling “no” and “call the vote” when Chancellor Mark Mone announced they had to move to a larger room because it was unsafe to have so many in the room chosen for the meeting. The turnout represented about a third of the faculty.
“By voting no confidence, we protest the intentional destruction of our internationally recognized university system,” associate professor of history and AAUP chapter president Rachel Ida Buff said. Buff described a “legislative assault” on shared governance and academic freedom. “The political assault has been accompanied by unprecedented fiscal cuts, impairing our ability to educate and serve our students,” she added.
“We must not let fear of reprisal prevent us from bringing our concerns to light,” said chapter vice-president Nick Fleisher, assistant professor of linguistics. [UPDATE 1: The full text of Buff’s and Fleisher’s remarks may be found here.]
The vote came less than two hours after Governor Scott Walker issued a statement — titled “University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee faculty fuss leaves out important facts” — clearly intended to intimidate faculty members. “Before the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee issues their collective groan today about budgeting and ‘job for life’ tenure, it is important to highlight the facts,” Walker said.
I’ll leave it to Wisconsin colleagues to refute the alleged “facts” in Walker’s arrogant assault, but the governor’s ignorant claim that tenure constitutes a “job for life,” only reveals why tenure is so essential. For tenure is not mainly about job security but about preserving the quality of education and the freedom of faculty members to teach and conduct research free from external political constraint or pressure — precisely the kind of pressure Walker is so eager to exert.
As former AAUP General Secretary Ernst Benjamin concluded in a useful defense of tenure, “Some Implications of Tenure for the Profession and Society,” available on the AAUP website, “whatever the purpose of diminishing the protections of tenure, the consequence will be to destroy the essential foundation for professional integrity.
Higher education without tenure would in time become a system of training schools whose instructors were neither educators nor scholars. For the notion that one can improve the university by destroying tenure ultimately presupposes that one can maintain the university without attracting or sustaining the teacher-scholar. On the contrary, tenure alone enables faculty to preserve their professional integrity and the creative conflict essential to the advancement of learning amid the intensifying institutional constraints of contemporary higher education.
In the end, this sign near campus said it all: