Rebecca Blank

University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank in her office in Bascom Hall on campus in June.

JOHN HART -- State Journal

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank asked Gov. Scott Walker on Friday to veto provisions in the state budget that strip tenure protections from law and weaken shared governance principles.

The changes to tenure would put University of Wisconsin System policies “at odds” with those offered by competing universities, Blank said, leaving UW-Madison at a disadvantage in wooing high-level faculty and the research funding they could bring with them.

As Gov. Scott Walker considers the 2015-17 state budget passed by the Legislature earlier this week — his office said Friday evening that he’ll sign it on Sunday — Blank is not the only education official looking to influence how he uses his powerful veto authority on some of the many policy items included in the bill.

The head of the state Department of Public Instruction has also asked Walker to make changes to the budget, requesting nearly two dozen vetoes of education provisions.

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office did not say if he planned to follow the recommendations.

“Governor Walker is evaluating the budget, and any veto decisions will be announced when final decisions have been made,” spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said.

The changes to tenure have drawn national attention and prompted a backlash from UW faculty, who have said the move will make it easier to fire professors and could restrict academic freedom.

In her letter to Walker’s office, Blank particularly took issue with a piece of the budget’s tenure language that allows for faculty to be laid off or fired as a result of budgetary decisions or changes to program direction. At peer institutions, tenured faculty can only be laid off “when there is just cause, financial emergency or program discontinuance for educational reasons,” Blank wrote.

Noting the “substantial federal and private-sector investment” top professors can attract to their state, Blank said UW-Madison cannot be seen as less attractive than competing universities.

Blank also opposed changes to shared governance in the UW System, saying an inclusive process has been beneficial to UW-Madison.

“Universities run best when there is broad consultation,” Blank wrote. “Tinkering with this successful operating formula is unnecessary.”

Grant Petty, a UW-Madison professor and president of the faculty advocacy group PROFS, supported Blank’s letter, saying it was consistent with a Faculty Senate resolution that called for all policy items to be removed from the state budget.

But David Vanness, an associate professor and vocal critic of the tenure changes, said Blank and other officials should have done more to oppose the provisions earlier in the budget process.

Many faculty members called for Blank to rally students and alumni for a “full-court press” against the changes, Vanness said, but that never happened. Such a strategy could have ended with the same result, he said, but it was disappointing not to see more public efforts from Blank and UW System President Ray Cross.

“(The letter) has absolutely zero chance of being effective,” Vanness said. “It’s far too little, far too late.”

Superintendent calls for changes

In a letter to Walker on Thursday, state superintendent Tony Evers asked the governor to veto 22 policy provisions in the state budget, calling the changes “just bad for children in public schools.”

Items Evers said should be vetoed included the expansion of the state’s private school voucher program, a requirement that high school students complete a civics test before they can graduate and changes to teacher licensing standards.

Legislators last week rolled back changes that would have allowed the state to grant teaching licenses to people without training and who, in some cases, had not attained high school or bachelor’s degrees.

But Department of Public Instruction officials argue other changes to licensing standards for technical education and a provision that would make it easier for teachers from other states to receive a Wisconsin license will still reduce state standards for educators.

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Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.