POSTED BY HANK REICHMAN
For the past few years Wisconsin has been ground zero in the fight over the future of public higher education. The AAUP, along with the Wisconsin AFT, has condemned a series of actions taken by Governor Scott Walker, the Wisconsin state legislature, and the University of Wisconsin system board of regents in what has become a concerted attack on the university as a public good. In 2011, legislation curtailed the rights of faculty in the system to negotiate collectively. In 2015, the legislature severely weakened tenure, shared governance, and due process—and, by extension, academic freedom. Last year’s attacks include the approval by the board of regents of an anti-free-speech proposal, changes to procedures governing searches for chancellors and presidents, a bill before the state legislature that would abolish a partnership with Planned Parenthood, and most notoriously a plan hatched in secret to merge the system’s two- and four-year institutions.
In May 2016, the Faculty Senate of the University of Wisconsin at Madison along with faculty from the other UW system campuses overwhelmingly voted no confidence in Ray Cross, president of the University of Wisconsin System, and in the system’s Board of Regents. The vote followed the board’s rejections of proposals made by faculty groups that would protect academic freedom in new system policies on tenure and the elimination of faculty jobs.
As Rachel Buff, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, wrote in October on this blog, “These policies are part of a dangerous trend, in which traditional stakeholders in the university, such as communities, citizens, students, staff, and faculty, have less power than the Board of Regents and unelected UW system administration. Despite assurances that long-hallowed principles of shared governance would endure the changes wrought by Act 55 in 2015, these new policies are indication of dictatorial tendencies in the UW system and beyond.”
This week came the exposure of an October email message from Cross to a UW regent in which he complained about the backlash he was facing after news broke of his proposal to merge the two-year and four-year schools before any announcement from system officials. As Michael DeCesare pointed out on this blog, the revelation confirmed that Cross and the Regents have “no use for shared governance.”
Today the executive committee of the AAUP’s University of Wisconsin-Madison chapter responded with the following letter:
February 6, 2018
Dear President Cross,
We write to you to express our deep concern about your willful disregard for the role of shared governance in the University of Wisconsin System, particularly as it involves the reorganization of UW System. In an email dated October 11, 2017, from you to Regent Gerald Whitburn, you stated that you were:
[g]etting hammered by the “shared governance” leaders because they weren’t involved in the process; however, had they been involved we wouldn’t be doing anything!!
Your email also indicated that you “knew” Wausau Chamber of Commerce member Dave Eckmann “was supportive and would be vocal” and that education management software company CEO Cliff King “indicated he would be as well.” In a separate email, your Director of State Relations, Jeffrey Schoenfeldt, stated he had talked with at least 9 Republican legislators, but that because Senate Republicans were in caucus, he “didn’t get as many members there as [he] hoped.” He referred to those to whom he had spoken as “my people.” All of these people presumably knew of your plans, which were “an open secret” in the Capitol, before faculty, staff, students — and even administrators of the very institutions you sought to redefine were even aware — much less involved in meaningful consultation. It is shocking and disheartening that you consider your true partners not to be the shared governance bodies of the University of Wisconsin System or the leaders of the communities we serve, regardless of party affiliation, but rather to be politically connected business interests and exclusively Republican legislators.
It does not bode well for the success of your policies that you consider shared governance to be nothing more than an impediment to progress. In May, 2016, when faculty from seven UW System institutions, including the UW Colleges declared that they had lost confidence in your leadership and that of the Board of Regents, the most significant factors were your failure to defend the institution from a hostile governor and state legislature and your abrogation of shared governance in passing policy on faculty termination over the expressed objections of both the UW System Faculty Representatives and the Faculty Senate of UW-Madison. Since then, despite our lack of confidence, faculty have struggled to maintain morale and do our part to advance our institution’s mission in service to students and society.
With the surfacing of your emails, it is particularly difficult for people who are supposed to share responsibility with you in governing this institution to have any confidence in your leadership. When you treat the core principle of shared governance as a concept so worthy of derision and disregard that you surround it with “air quotes” in an email to a member of the Board of Regents, it is difficult to envision ever regaining that confidence. In short, your attitude and words have done further damage to an already damaged relationship. If you wish to repair this damage, a good first step would be to explain your words and whether they do or do not fairly reflect your opinion on shared governance. Generously assuming that they do not, a good next step would be for you to outline specific policies and practices for including faculty, staff and students in meaningful shared governance at the system level – in a manner that is neither post hoc nor trivialized.
Endorsed unanimously by the Executive Committee
of the UW-Madison Chapter of the American Association of University Professors
Professor’s Buff’s conclusion stands: “The accelerated pace, autocratic style and direction of current UW policies indicates that they are part of a much broader, national assault on public education and on democratic government. Although Governor Walker came to power promising Wisconsinites a relief from “big” federal government and more control at the local level, his appointed Board of Regents instead appropriates power away from citizens, students and communities. This direction contradicts the critical mission of public higher education as well as the very nature of the Wisconsin Idea.”
At UW-Milwaukee, the University Committee and the AAUP chapter are jointly sponsoring a resolution of censure to be brought to the Faculty Senate on February 15.
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