Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is poised to win a huge victory on education as the state legislature passed a budget that repeals state tenure guarantees while also slashing the budget of the University of Wisconsin.
The victory was enunciated by the acquiescence of the university, which recognized its defeat by passing a spending plan that implements Walker’s cuts. All that remains is for Walker to consummate his victory by affixing his signature to the budget.
The two-year, $73 billion budget approved Thursday makes a host of changes Walker has sought in the realm of education. Wisconsin’s school voucher program is expanded, and $250 million in funding is taken from the University of Wisconsin. That’s down from the $300 million cut Walker originally sought, but still a substantial haircut.
Bowing to the fait accompli, later on Thursday the University of Wisconsin approved its own budget, implementing the big cuts expected of it. About 400 positions will be laid off or will go unfilled, and the university’s budgets no money for pay hikes. The school’s situation is made tougher because the legislature has also frozen in-state tuition.
While academics have accused Walker of sabotaging the school’s competitiveness, Walker has refused to yield, arguing that professors should be teaching more classes. (RELATED: Walker: University Profs Need To Work Harder)
Walker’s push to slash spending at U-Wisconsin has received the most press, but his push to alter tenure may have the biggest long-term implications. Until now, tenure for professors at the University of Wisconsin has been protected by statute (Wisconsin is the only state with such a law). Now, that protection has been eliminated, leaving it up to the school’s board of regents to decide whether professors have tenure.
Not only that, but tenure itself has been weakened so that it doesn’t offer the protections it once did. Previously, only “financial exigency” (an urgent budget shortfall) could justify the firing of a tenured professor. Now, tenured professors may also be laid off whenever it is “deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision regarding program discontinuance, curtailment, modification, or redirection.” (RELATED: Wisconsin Might Destroy Tenure For Professors)
The budget also rolls back the principle of “shared governance,” in which faculty are given heavy leeway to control the governance of their own departments. Instead, faculty are assigned a primary advisory role for helping the chancellor.
University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank sent a letter to Walker Friday begging him to veto the changes, saying they would drive away current and prospective faculty.
“Over its 165-year history, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has built an international reputation for the highest quality research and teaching,” said Blank. “For us to attract and retain the best faculty in the global higher education marketplace, it is imperative that UW-Madison not be seen as offering a less attractive package than can be found at our peer institutions.”
But given that rolling back tenure is Walker’s idea in the first place, a veto at the eleventh hour is a very unlikely concession.
Angry faculty have directed a great deal of venom toward Blank and the UW board of regents, accusing them of letting the tenure provisions pass by failing to make a loud protest.
Walker is expected to sign the budget by Monday, when he is scheduled to officially announce his presidential campaign.
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