A group of University of Wisconsin-Madison professors is criticizing UW System President Ray Cross for his deliberate refusal to consult with faculty groups in devising a plan to merge the system’s two-year colleges with four-year institutions, and his “shocking” allegiance to the agenda of Republican legislators.
The executive committee of the UW-Madison chapter of the American Association of University Professors also is calling on Cross to outline practices to include faculty, staff and students in shared governance of the UW System.
An open letter to Cross released Tuesday refers to a wave of "no confidence" votes against him in 2016 and expresses “deep concern about your willful disregard for the role of shared governance” in mapping a system reorganization plan adopted by UW System Regents in November, a scant month after it was made public.
The letter was precipitated by a Wisconsin Public Radio report last week that revealed emails by Cross, released under state open records law. On Oct. 11, the day the reorganization plan was made public, Cross wrote in an email to UW Regent Gerald Whitburn that he was “getting 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!”
Other Cross emails refer to expected support from business groups and a staff lobbyist’s contacts with at least nine Republican legislators who praised the reorganization plan.
“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,” says the letter by UW-Madison AAUP leaders.
In addition to merging campuses, the system reorganization will also eliminate UW Colleges and Extension, something promoted by Republican legislators in the past.
Work is underway to complete the restructuring by July 1.
The AAUP letter references “no-confidence” statements adopted in 2016 by faculty shared governance groups at seven UW System institutions, including UW Colleges. The statements criticized the leadership by Cross and the Board of Regents for their “abrogation of shared governance” in the adoption of policies that weakened tenure, AAUP says.
The AAUP calls on Cross to develop policies and procedures to incorporate shared governance groups into UW System operations.
There is not now any system-wide structure parallel to the campus shared governance groups that help set policy at that level, said David Vanness, an associate professor of population health sciences and past president of the UW-Madison chapter of AAUP.
"It seems more and more that the faculty, staff and student representatives are only made aware of major policy decisions after they have been devised with Republican legislators and the governor's office. Then the representatives are being asked to go back to their campuses and sell these policies to their constituents and clean up the mess that results from hasty decision-making," Vanness said Tuesday. "The fact that President Cross actively concealed the UW System reorganization plans from these representatives makes it clear that he sees no need to seek their approval, much less their input, until after a point of no return."
Cross spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis told WPR that despite a difficult start, shared governance groups are now involved in remaking the UW System.
"So, I think we would be the first to acknowledge that this wasn’t rolled out the way that we planned or that we anticipated or would have liked to do, but I think what’s really important is we have to move forward, think about what do we need to do for our students because that’s really what this is about," Marquis said.