- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

MILWAUKEE (AP) - A Republican plan backed by Gov. Scott Walker to remove tenure for University of Wisconsin professors from state law has emerged as the latest battleground for public employees in Wisconsin.

Professors and faculty members made it clear to UW regents meeting Thursday in Milwaukee that they are ready for a fight over job protections that could be removed from state law and left to the Board of Regents to set as policy.

“This is what Scott Walker has called his Act 10 for higher education,” said UW-Milwaukee English professor Mauricio Kilwein Gueuara. “It has a remarkably chilling effect. We’re told we have to separate political activity from educational activity.”

Professors and their supporters lined up in the back of the regents meeting holding signs and wearing blue tape over their mouths to show that they could be silenced without tenure protection and without shared governance, which gives the professors, staff and students independent authority on curriculum and programs.

The Legislature’s budget-writing committee voted last week to cut the University of Wisconsin’s budget by $250 million and eliminate tenure protections for faculty from state law. Democrats argue the changes would hurt both higher education and the state’s economy. The committee also voted to make changes to shared governance, turning that authority over to campus chancellors and regents.

Regent Tony Evers, state superintendent, asked the board’s Education Committee to formally urge legislators to reject the recommendation of the Joint Finance Committee.

“I’m saddened that we are even talking about this,” Evers said. “This is a significant issue that will impact our university system for decades.”

Although UW System President Ray Cross has promised to insert the same tenure protections currently in state law into board policy, Regent Mark Bradley said there are no guarantees future regents would feel the same.

“I don’t want any board to weaken what I would call non-emergency reasons” for dismissal or termination, Bradley said.

Dozens of professors and supporters in the audience applauded when UW-Madison professor David Vanness told regents that the “whole world is watching” what happens in Wisconsin in regard to tenure.

Vanness said a proposed tenure policy before the board only offers partial protections that would not inhibit the board from exercising its “new power to lay off or terminate a tenured faculty member.”

The committee voted to approve a motion offered by Regent Gerald Whitburn, which directs the UW System tenure task force to address layoffs as part of the broader tenure policy. All regents were to consider the committee’s recommendation Friday.

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said her campus, the UW System and the Board of Regents have a tradition of transparent review, input and discussion, particularly when significant changes are on the horizon.

“These changes have been put into proposed law without any public discussion or input from the higher education community, which is unfortunate,” Blank said in a statement.

Walker, who is expected to launch a presidential run once he signs the state budget into law, argued that he was giving UW reforms and independence it had sought for years. Walker has said the reforms are in essence an extension of Act 10 to higher education. That 2011 law ended collective bargaining for most public workers, including K-12 teachers, and sparked huge protests by union members and others at the state Capitol.

The Senate and Assembly, both controlled by Republicans, will vote on the Joint Finance Committee’s recommendation once it finishes its work on the state budget.

The 26 institutions in the UW System serve about 180,000 students statewide.

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