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Chancellor's Blog: Update on UW System Regents Tenure Policy Task Force

| Chancellor James Schmidt

As many of you know, I have been asked to serve as one of three chancellors on the UW System Board of Regents Tenure Policy Task Force. The task force is chaired by Eau Claire's regent, Vice President John Behling; regents President Regina Milner also participates. I take this committee responsibility seriously, to advocate for a strong defense of tenure and academic freedom, and also to share with you our progress.

The Tenure Policy Task Force was formed in response to recent legislative changes that removed the statutory provision governing faculty tenure. In response, the Board of Regents reaffirmed its commitment to the importance of tenure by unanimously adopting a tenure policy that replicates the language of the repealed statute. That policy is now in effect.

The regents formed the task force to thoughtfully and carefully review our tenure policy and to make recommendations by spring 2016 to assure we have a strong and responsive policy that can be adopted by institutions across the UW System. Read the task force's full charge.

I was encouraged by our first meeting, held just over a week ago. We were briefed on the legal implications of the legislative and Board of Regents actions, including how the law has impacted — and not impacted — tenure on our campuses. We will be reviewing models from across the United States as we assess our current language. Our discussion also will be informed by conversations that UW System staff is having with the American Association of University Professors. We will look closely at guidelines for tenured faculty review and development, and make recommendations for clear and consistent criteria regarding faculty layoff due to budget or program decisions.

Each task force member shared how he or she would define a successful outcome — it was apparent that all members, including chancellors, faculty and regents, want to affirm a strong tenure policy. After the meeting I chatted with some of the faculty representatives and they agreed with that assessment. One of them stated that the group is "in solidarity" around the principles of academic freedom and tenure.

It is my hope that the task force will be able to help remove the "dark cloud" over Wisconsin, as rumors and fears of changes to tenure extend to a national audience. Those rumors impact our ability to recruit and retain strong faculty. (That comment was picked up by a reporter for The Capital Times who attended the meeting. I will do my best to help separate the facts from fiction as our recommendations are formulated.

For now, the most important fact I want to share is that UW System and UW-Eau Claire have retained all the rights and policies regarding tenure and academic freedom that had been enshrined in state law. As the Tenure Policy Task Force meets in the coming months, I will keep you updated. 

Read more Chancellor's Blog entries.