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Adopt policy that the Board shall only dismiss, terminate or layoff tenured faculty "for just cause and with due process" or in case of "financial emergency"

This petition had 3,656 supporters


As Regents, you have been entrusted by the people of the State of Wisconsin with the primary responsibility for governance of the University of Wisconsin System.  When you accepted this responsibility, you agreed to sacrifice substantial personal time and energy to represent the public interest through preservation and enhancement of educational quality and prudent stewardship of University assets (Res. 6476 adopted 7/16/93).  The most fundamental asset possessed by the University was not built with bricks and mortar, but with fearless inquiry, experimentation and debate.  It is our human intellectual capital, the breadth and depth of knowledge and spirit of innovation possessed by our faculty, staff and students, upon which our University is built and from which the public interest is served.

In the Omnibus Motion adopted by a 12-4 vote of the Joint Finance Committee on May 29, 2015, the Board of Regents is to be granted new authority, which even if not exercised, by its very existence will create a chilling effect upon the research and teaching activities of our faculty and staff.  Specifically, language in point 39 of the motion states that the “… Board may, with appropriate notice, terminate any faculty or academic staff appointment when such an action is deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision regarding program discontinuance, curtailment, modification, or redirection, instead of when a financial emergency exists as under current law.”  Our fear is that this language is so broad and imprecise that it would allow for programs of academic inquiry and instruction (or even individually targeted tenured faculty within programs) to be terminated on the basis of political whim and convenience. 

Tenure granted under such conditions is not tenure at all. Our statutorily protected tenure, which was once considered to be among the strongest guarantees of academic freedom in the world, will now be considered worth less than the paper upon which it is written. The mere existence of such authority directly devalues our University’s most fundamental asset, and frankly, puts it up for fire sale – piece by piece and person by person – to peer institutions, who will not hesitate to draw away our current faculty and future recruits.  We are gravely concerned that we stand at the brink of an inexorable death spiral.

To protect the spirit of fearless inquiry, to further mutual trust between the faculty and the Board of Regents, and to send a clear signal that you are champions of the Wisconsin Idea, we call upon you to formally adopt policy binding yourselves to exercising the new authority granted in point 39 of the Omnibus Motion to layoff or terminate faculty specifically and only “for just cause and with due process” or in case of "financial emergency."  To fail to bind yourselves in such a manner would be to advertise to the world that tenured faculty at the University of Wisconsin can, and will, be terminated for unjust cause and without due process.

We appeal to you today at a critical time in our University’s history. At perhaps no other time since the trial of Richard T. Ely in 1894 has the University faced such a threat to its core principles and to its very existence.  In the committee final report exonerating Professor Ely, UW President Charles Kendall Adams wrote:

“As Regents … [w]e feel that we would be unworthy of the position we hold if we did not believe in progress in all departments of knowledge. In all lines of academic investigation it is of the utmost importance that the investigator should be absolutely free to follow the indications of truth wherever they may lead. Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

These words were written not only to the Regents of 1894.  They were written to all Regents to come – and to none more urgently than you.



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