UW Faculty Protests Anger GOP Legislators
Walker and legislators double down: they won’t restore UW cuts or tenure protection.
Political storm clouds are forming over how much state aid the University of Wisconsin System will get in the next two-year budget. And, if Republicans keep control of the Legislature in November elections, those clouds could easily turn into a red-flag storm warning.
Faculty votes of “no confidence” in System President Ray Cross and the policy-setting Board of Regents on six of the UW system campuses have angered Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislative leaders – leaders who must sign off on UW System aid in the 2017-19 budget, which will pass the Legislature next year.
UW System faculty members object to several actions by Walker and Republican legislators: State aid to the UW System was cut by $250 million in the current two-year budget, forcing buyout offers, unfilled vacancies and canceled classes. State law guaranteeing tenure protection was repealed, leaving it up the Regents to set new tenure guidelines. Undergraduate resident tuition has been frozen for four years.
But, in a WisconsinEye interview at the Republican Party state convention, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called the faculty votes “not helpful” and a “big mistake on their part.”
Vos said he hopes he can keep state aid for the UW System in the next two-year state budget where it is now – $2.08 billion.
Vos’s statement sends this blunt message to UW faculty members with little or no faith in their bosses: You want state aid to the System increased? Not going to happen.
And, UW faculty should be thankful that legislators allowed the Regents to set new tenure guidelines because, Vos said, “I might have eliminated tenure altogether.” Vos said he only agreed to let the Regents enact new tenure guidelines at the request of Cross.
Walker accused protesting UW faculty members of “groaning.” The governor who will hand the Legislature a proposed budget next year not only hinted that the four-year undergraduate tuition freeze might be extended two more years, but he also added in his weekly public update:
“Today, the overall UW System budget is the largest it has ever been. That’s right. The overall budget has never been larger and for the first time in history, tuition is frozen four years in a row. “These facts might be surprising because of the resolutions recently passed by some UW faculty members….[T]he real issue for them is the fact that we altered the’ jobs for life’ tenure program. “In contrast, we believe the focus should be on providing students with the best education possible – in a way that makes college affordable and accessible. Replacing ‘jobs for life’ tenure with reasonable expectations for teaching just makes sense.”
In another interview during the GOP convention, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Cross “has done a relatively good job in a very difficult environment.”
Fitzgerald added: “The votes of ‘no confidence’ – I don’t know how that’s productive for either side.”
When Fitzgerald was asked what the top priority for more state aid should be in the next budget, he didn’t mention the UW System. Instead, “The priority … would probably be to put more money in K-12 education.” Some Republican senators have “real concerns” about the need to boost K-12 spending, he added.
The sniping worries UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank. The Cap Times reported that she told a faculty meeting on that campus: “It makes me really worried going into this budget round how we maintain a civil and useful conversation.”
Ironically, a recent public champion of the UW System was former Republican Gov. Tommy G. Thompson. Accepting an honorary UW-Madison degree, the four-term governor and UW-Madison alum called UW faculty members “some of the greatest professors in the United States,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
Continuing his not-so-subtle rebuke of Walker, Thompson also called the UW System an “engine of economic development” and research.
But when was the last time Thompson drafted a budget that went to the Legislature? 1999.