- Associated Press - Monday, May 9, 2016

The Journal Times of Racine, May 17

Tenure should be protected, but not at all costs

University of Wisconsin System faculty members have expressed outrage after the UW Board of Regents voted recently on tenure changes and an email surfaced from UW System President Ray Cross stating tenure should not protect faculty “who are no longer needed in a discipline.”

Faculty on at least six campuses have since voiced their disapproval with Cross and the state Board of Regents, with faculty groups at, at least five campuses, taking no-confidence votes in Cross and the board, essentially asking the board and Cross to change course or step down.

Hearing about this, you would think that the UW System was proposing eliminating tenure altogether. But that is not the case.

According to the policy that the Board of Regents approved in March, the times when a tenured professor could be laid off would be very limited.

The policy states, “Faculty layoff will be invoked only in extraordinary circumstances and after all feasible alternatives have been considered . Layoff shall not be based on conduct, expressions, or beliefs on the faculty member’s part that are constitutionally protected or protected by the principles of academic freedom.”

It also states, “Tenure is an essential part of the guarantee of academic freedom that is necessary for university-based intellectual life to flourish.”

It states right there the importance of tenure. Professors shouldn’t be fired because a chancellor doesn’t agree with their viewpoints.

But as the world and our state evolves, the demand for different occupations changes.

As part of that, on some occasions, a professor may need to be let go.

That is what the newly released UW tenure policy says.

“Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System (Board) has authority, with appropriate notice, to terminate through layoff a faculty appointment when necessary in the event of a financial emergency, or a program decision resulting in program discontinuance.”

If the new policy didn’t have protection written in for academic freedom, we would be concerned. But the new policy explicitly states layoffs would only happen in cases of extraordinary circumstances.

In a released statement, Board of Regents President Regina Millner called faculty’s recent no-confidence votes an “overreaction to the Board’s decision to put in place very reasonable and fair tenure and layoff policies - something the Legislature directed us to do.”

She goes on to say, “These policies align with our peer institutions and allow us to remain competitive for the recruitment and retention of quality faculty.”

We want to keep the best and brightest faculty teaching at our universities. We don’t want them to leave Wisconsin or fear losing their jobs. But as times change, the universities need to evolve.

Millner is right: The recent votes of no confidence seem to be an overreaction.


Wisconsin State Journal, May 18

Secret meetings strike again at the state Capitol

Senate Republicans were “giddy” about tightening voting rules in Wisconsin during a closed-door meeting in 2011, a former GOP staffer testified in federal court this week.

Republican Sens. Mary Lazich of New Berlin and Glenn Grothman (now a congressman from Campbellsport) stressed to their partisan colleagues that a photo ID requirement could limit voting in the Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee and on college campuses, giving Republicans a competitive advantage.

“What I’m concerned about here is winning,” Grothman said back then, according to former Senate staffer Todd Allbaugh, who testified at the start of a trial Monday over a lawsuit contending voter ID and other restrictions illegally discriminate against students and minorities.

Other Republican senators in the room five years ago dispute Allbaugh’s recollections, with their attorney dismissing his testimony as “hearsay.” U.S. District Judge James Peterson is sorting it all out.

But this much is clear: Large groups of lawmakers shouldn’t be huddling in secret to discuss anything related to major public policy proposals. No other government decision-making body in Wisconsin - not school boards, city councils, county boards or even obscure subcommittees - is allowed such a blanket exemption from Wisconsin’s open meetings law.

Yet the Legislature grants itself this glaring loophole: Republicans and Democrats in each legislative house can routinely meet behind closed doors as partisan groups, often with a majority of senators or representatives present. No members of the opposite political party, news reporters or the public are allowed to sit and listen.

This secrecy lets the majority party - now the Republicans, previously the Democrats - debate and count votes on what they plan to do before moving to the floor of the Senate or Assembly to make it official with a united front. The partisan privacy makes it easier for legislative leaders to pressure members to follow the party line and cut deals. It’s part of the reason fierce partisanship is so rampant on both sides of the aisle.

Secret meetings at the state Capitol also make it harder for citizens to follow what their elected leaders are doing and hold them accountable for decisions.

Past efforts to apply the same open meetings standards to lawmakers that other public officials must follow have failed, despite bipartisan support. Only public pressure will force more openness. And Senate Republicans just provided another prime example of why “legislative party caucuses” should always be open. It’s in these meetings where the big decisions about spending money and adopting policy are made.

Two Madison aldermen just ran afoul of the state’s open meetings law by discussing changes to city committees without posting the required public notice. The two sit on a three-member subcommittee, so they formed a quorum.

If that’s a violation - and it should be, to ensure the public knows what its elected officials are up to - then surely a majority of the Wisconsin Senate huddled in a back room of the state Capitol demands the light of day.


Appleton Post-Crescent, May 15

Here’s what Neenah police should do now

There was a lot to absorb in the voluminous reports, videos and statements released by the Wisconsin Department of Justice a little over a week ago.

When Attorney General Brad Schimel was in Neenah on May 6 to say his department would not press charges against the two officers who shot and killed a hostage trying to escape Eagle Nation Cycles in December, he made the distinction that while the officers’ actions might not have been the right ones, they likely could not be convicted under criminal charges.

There’s a big difference there.

Our hope is the Neenah Police Department’s leadership took time this past week to reflect and start to moving down a path that helps improve the department. And that they take this journey out in the open.

We hope they’re looking into whether any of the department’s policies need to change. We hope they’re considering whether the officers who killed Michael L. Funk need additional training. We hope they’re looking into whether outside agencies can help the department refine its training so if there’s ever a situation like this again, the outcome is different. We hope they assess whether the department has an internal culture of bias against any subset of the city’s population.

We hope they’re looking into whether the officers who killed Funk are a still good fit to serve Neenah, in light of the fact that one of them disobeyed orders to step down after he had been hit by a bullet in his helmet.

Horrible, chaotic situations sometimes cannot be prevented, and we honor talented police officers for their work. But it’s the actions that take place in the aftermath of a tragedy that can show whether a department is truly dedicated to protecting its citizens.

And they can control how transparent they are about the process.

Our Editorial Board noted how terribly disappointed we were that Police Chief Kevin Wilkinson refused for five months to correct misinformation he released to the public after the shooting. Now would be the perfect opportunity to show those omissions were an anomaly.

The Department of Justice posted on YouTube hours and hours of videos that are far from flattering for the Neenah Police Department, all in the name of openness (even if not every moment was made public). Neenah can follow that department’s lead on the thoroughness of this report (even if it wasn’t open about it for five months before that) by being honest about what needs to change and how those changes will be made.

It won’t be a quick process, but it’s an essential one.

There’s still plenty of time to improve, as we all learn from our mistakes. It’s part of being human.

But with police departments who have the power to kill, that learning process must take place in the open.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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