I read with interest UW System Regent John R. Behling’s comments at the February 5, 2016 meeting of the Board of Regents education committee about the new tenure and post-tenure review policies being proposed for UW System faculty. For those who haven't been following this riveting discussion, the changes will give Chancellors, Deans and other administrators more authority to fire faculty not just in the event of just cause or financial emergency, but now in the event of program discontinuation. So if a Chancellor decides that a program focused on climate change, stem cell research, or higher ed/workforce relations is no longer needed (or desirable), then it is possible that the program could be cut, faculty fired, and dollars saved.
So I was particularly interested in his statement that “without demonstrated accountability (as reflected by these new policies), our budget prospects in the future will not improve.” This comment indicates that he is confident that should these new policies be passed, the budget cuts that have been made to public higher education in the state of Wisconsin -- $250 million in 2003-2005, $250 million in 2011-2013, and $250 million in 2015-2017 -- will cease.
The cessation of these cuts appears to be contingent on having campus leaders and faculty being held more accountable to a public that apparently is clamoring for changes to the powers that administrators have in managing personnel and programs.
As a faculty member at UW-Madison concerned about the long-term viability of my university system, I was relieved to hear of this pronouncement that with these changes in tenure policy that would give administrators such authority, the budgetary outlook should indeed improve in the next biennial budget for 2018-2020, such that we will see the end of these massive disinvestments in the state’s public higher education system.
At the same time, I call upon Regent Behling and the other members of the Board of Regents to also hold themselves accountable for their decisions and public statements regarding policies that affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of students, staff, and faculty throughout the great state of Wisconsin. Because the Board of Regents is expected to accept responsibility for effectively governing the system in the public interest, including the “preservation and enhancement of educational quality” and “advocacy for the value of higher education to the state” I fully expect the Regents to strongly advocate for the next UW System budget to not just avoid cuts, but to actively fight for increased investments in our state’s public higher education system (Regent Policy Doc. 2-2d).
These investments are critical in order to provide the necessary supports for faculty and staff to continue engaging in cutting-edge research, providing students of all ages with a broad education and transferable skillsets, serving the community through outreach and service, and preparing the state’s future workforce for the challenging economy of the 21st century.
Consequently, in the event that additional cuts are made to the UW System in the next budget cycle, I call upon Regent Behling to acknowledge that his statement to the state and its citizens that these new tenure policies will improve budgetary prospects was in fact wrong, and to resign his position as a Regent. This is the type of accountability that the public is indeed calling for.