Robin Vos (copy)

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

STEVE APPS — State Journal

Faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are bracing for a full-out attack on shared governance after a Republican legislative leader called for empowering campus chancellors to “truly be the chief executive officers.”

“Does the role of allowing faculty to make a huge number of decisions help the system or hurt the system?” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said, according to a report by Inside Higher Ed.

Vos, R-Burlington, made the remark at a meeting last week promoted as a forum to help find common ground between the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents after a bruising clash between the two bodies this spring over UW’s cash reserves.

The meeting on Sept. 5 revealed lingering distrust, with Republican lawmakers accusing university leaders of a lack of transparency, loss of focus on creating job-ready graduates, and a campus climate that shuts out conservative voices in intellectual debate.

UW-Madison sociology professor Sara Goldrick-Rab said after the meeting that she was troubled by Vos’ remarks about looking into the “perceived inefficiency” stemming from faculty involvement in decision-making.

Diminishing the role of faculty in the process would go against tradition and research has found it is misguided, Goldrick-Rab said.

She blogged about research suggesting that greater faculty involvement in university governance helps hold costs down, citing an analysis that shows spending at UW-Madison rose since 2008 as administrative — not academic — staff grew.

Goldrick-Rab also posted a document stating the mission of the “UW-System Shared Governance Reform Workgroup.” The group, made up of Assembly staffers, was charged with examining the shared governance system and making suggestions for “streamlining” the process.

State law provides roles for the Board of Regents, chancellors, faculty, staff and students in governing the university. 

According to the document, "The current shared governance system has created a problematic relationship between faculty and student governments and also between the university system and the Legislature," it reads. "The UW-System Shared Governance Reform Workgroup is tasked with an examination of (the statute) and its division of powers."

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Vos described the group’s work to Regents as "a very early discussion." A spokesperson for Vos said later that the group looked at the issue this summer.

UW-Madison professor William Tracy, a member of the 212-seat Faculty Senate, told Inside Higher Ed that Vos’ remarks reflect a misunderstanding of the faculty role in governance. Faculty members have been effective in that role in many ways, he said, and are not “ineffective,” “inflexible” or “stodgy.”

In the article, Professor Randy Olson, chairman of the Faculty Senate at UW-Stevens Point, compared Vos’ desire to make chancellors more like CEOs to making governors more like CEOs by lessening the role of legislators in state governance.

Therein, argued Julie Schmid of the American Federation of Teachers, lies the genesis for the assault on a faculty voice in the governance of the University of Wisconsin. It is “part and parcel” of Gov. Scott Walker’s move to gut the collective bargaining of public employees and further the corporatization of higher education, she told Inside Higher Ed.