Board of Regents Education Committee

The UW Board of Regents' Education Committee approved new tenure policies for UW-Madison faculty on Thursday.

GREEN BAY — A new UW-Madison tenure policy written by faculty members is poised to pass the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents after a series of changes that make it compatible with a System policy governing all state campuses.

Some professors say the revision weakens their protections from layoffs, while others defended the policy as being similar to comparable institutions.

UW officials said the policy, approved by UW-Madison’s faculty senate last fall, was changed slightly to bring it into line with tenure rules for the UW System as a whole that the Regents approved last month.

Among other changes, the revisions make clear that the final authority in deciding whether a professor can be laid off rests with UW-Madison’s chancellor, and that faculty severance packages are at the discretion of the chancellor rather than guaranteed.

The Regents’ education committee approved the policy unanimously with no discussion during its meeting Thursday at UW-Green Bay. The full Board of Regents will vote on the policy Friday.

UW-Madison professor Dorothy Farrar-Edwards told the Regents she is comfortable with changes to the policy.

“Our tenure policies are compatible with the majority of public universities — and they are in fact better than some,” Farrar-Edwards said.

Farrar-Edwards acknowledged that the new policy represents weaker protections than the ones UW faculty once enjoyed when tenure was a matter of state law. But she said she believed the policy approved Thursday represents the strongest tenure protections possible given the changes state legislators made to faculty layoff rules last summer.

Officials at UW-Madison have sought to reassure professors on campus — and address perceptions in higher education circles nationally — that faculty will be protected.

“What I want to do is end the conversation about how the University of Wisconsin has eliminated tenure,” Farrar-Edwards said. “We have tenure, we have protections, we have a vibrant university.”

New System tenure policy

New Systemwide tenure policies approved by the Regents in March allow for chancellors to close academic programs and lay off faculty members for educational or financial reasons.

With System rules in place, the Regents have started considering campus-specific tenure policies, of which UW-Madison’s was the first.

Farrar-Edwards said she did not anticipate the full Board of Regents to make changes to the policy.

The Madison policy, which officials say could serve as a template for tenure rules at other UW campuses, allow the chancellor to close programs for educational reasons based on “long-range judgments that the educational mission of the institution as a whole will be enhanced by a program’s discontinuance,” or during a financial emergency.

The UW-Madison faculty senate, which approved the policy last November, passed a resolution earlier this week calling for the tenure rules to be approved without any alterations.

Population health sciences professor David Vanness, who has pushed for the university to adopt strong tenure protections, said the changes to the policy put more power in the hands of UW-Madison’s chancellor.

“These changes were substantial,” Vanness said, and meant Madison’s policy is no stronger than the System tenure rules, which many professors protested.

While chancellors were required to “pursue” options other than laying off professors under the original proposal, Vanness noted the policy was changed to say they must only “consider” those options.

He also took issue with the policy only requiring that a chancellor consult with faculty governance groups about layoffs, rather than securing their approval. Farrar-Edwards said the faculty’s role in the process was always to consult with the chancellor.

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