Why do legislative Republicans fear tenure and shared governance?

I’ve been thinking a lot about tenure and shared governance and the role of the University of Wisconsin System in our state lately. I guess that’s no surprise, considering the changes the Joint Committee on Finance has proposed, without hearing (per their usual modus operandi), to Chapter 36 of the Wisconsin statutes.

People far more eloquent than I have written about the impact of the proposed changes on recruitment, retention, research, the student experience, and the quality of the education people will begin to get from the University of Wisconsin campuses. The statement by PROFS (a UW-Madison faculty organization) lays out the details of the most egregious element of the Republican-passed proposal, Item 39, which greatly enlarges the scope for dismissal and layoff of tenured faculty. For those interested in the impact on campuses, I recommend especially Chuck Rybak, a professor at UW-Green Bay, who has been chronicling the attack on the university at his blog, Sad Iron.

So I don’t think I need to add more details about what has happened.

My question is “Why have the Republicans decided to change the governance structure so drastically at one of the great public universities in this country?”

What do the Republicans have against the University of Wisconsin?

I looked at the short bios of the members of the Joint Finance committee. Surprisingly, most of these people hold degrees from the University of Wisconsin. Alberta Darling graduated from Madison in 1966 and did graduate work in the 1970s. Luther Olsen graduated from Madison in 1973. Mary Czaja (class of 1986) and Tom Tiffany (class of 1980) attended UW-River Falls. Howard Marklein (class of 1976) attended Whitewater, Amy Loudenbeck got her Madison degree in 1991, and Leah Vukmir received an M.S. in nursing from Madison in 1980.

Both John Nygren (UW-Marinette) and Michael Schraa (UW-Oshkosh) attended but did not receive degrees.

Among the Democrats, Jon Erpenbach attended UW-Oshkosh, Lena Taylor has a degree from UW-Milwaukee (class of 1990), Chris Taylor has a J.D. from Madison (1995) and Gordon Hintz holds an M.P.A. from Madison (2001).

Did shared governance or tenure hurt these legislators in any way? Did it interfere with their education?

Somehow I doubt it. I attended UW-Madison in the mid-1970s as an undergraduate and again in the early 1990s as a graduate student. As with every educational experience (the same situation obtained at the University of Chicago), I had good teachers and bad teachers, but the majority were interested in ensuring that I learned what I needed to learn. As an undergraduate, I had professors who took a personal interest in me, met with me for conversation and tea, and helped me focus on my major. As a graduate student, I had professors who saw my particular talents and encouraged me in them, gave me the opportunity to work with them as a grader, and put me on a successful path toward my chosen career.

Neither my professors’ tenure nor their participation in shared governance interfered with my education. In fact, I am sure that their full engagement in the university community enhanced my education, because the professors were able to teach what they deemed appropriate for the major, within limits of accrediting organizations.

I cannot believe that the members of the Joint Committee on Finance had different experiences. Sen. Vukmir’s M.S. led to a 20-year career as a certified pediatric nurse practitioner. Would she have been there without the University of Wisconsin?

Sen. Darling was a teacher and marketing director. Would she have been there without UW? Surely Rep. Loudenbeck’s political science and international relations degree, which included study abroad in Jamaica, enhanced her work with the chamber of commerce, just as Rep. Czaja’s degree in finance and economics informs her work as the owner of an insurance agency.

So why are these people now intent on creating a second-tier university in our state? Because that is surely where we are headed. We will lose faculty and their research grants, we will lose the top-quality students who want to work with those faculty, and we will lose the economic benefits of a top-tier university, including all the spinoff companies, the laboratory jobs, the construction jobs, and the pride of being a Badger.

I cannot explain it. Can anyone else? Sen. Vukmir, Sen. Darling, Rep. Loudenbeck, Rep. Schraa, Rep. Nygren, and all the rest. What do you have against a great university?


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10 thoughts on “Why do legislative Republicans fear tenure and shared governance?

  1. Joanne, thanks.

    Unilaterally abandoning tenure at UW would be like Packer president, Mark Murphy prohibiting Ted Thompson from using “guaranteed” money to sign Packers. The joe-and-jane-six-pack Packer fans who support Gov. Walker would see the problem instantly. All the best Packers would leave for the 31 NFL franchises who will pay them “guaranteed” money.

    That simile doesn’t begin to describe all the value in tenure, but it’s the kind of talk radio, Charlie Sykes, Mark Belling soundbyte that the UW system needs to fight this battle today.

    1. You hit the nail on the head by mentioning “talk radio.” I firmly believe these measures are based largely around the anti-intellectualism and anti-education mindset perpetuated by the likes of Charlie Sykes and the rest of right wing mainstream radio & media.

      I think the best way to counteract this mindset is by showing how funding public education and the UW actually nets a huge positive ROI for the state as a whole. Businesses don’t want to come to a state full of uneducated people. Workers don’t want to move to cities with underfunded schools. Even diehard conservatives can generally understand those concepts.

  2. “Why do legislative Republicans fear tenure?”

    The main reason to disagree with tenure is that it creates obstacles to removing lousy professors. I would reframe the question. Why would a good professor fear the end of tenure?

    1. Denis, same is true for really unqualified Governors who have the full support of the elites and their money.

      1. John, there are very clear paths to removing an unqualified governor. You tried them both, election and recall, and failed.

        1. Denis, glad you’ve finally come around to how spectacularly unqualified Gov. Walker is.

          “Report: Wisconsin worst in nation on shrinking middle class”

          Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/report-wisconsin-worst-in-nation-on-shrinking-middle-class/article_f802788b-2405-5e5f-9fe3-522939779911.html#ixzz3cW60zJaI

          How are you coping with watching him lobby for welfare for billionaires Lasry and Edens?

          From wealthy Utah banker Marrineer Eccles in 1933:

          “It is utterly impossible, as this country has demonstrated again and again, for the rich to save as much as they have been trying to save, and save anything that is worth saving. They can save idle factories and useless railroad coaches; they can save empty office buildings and closed banks; they can save paper evidences of foreign loans; but as a class they can not save anything that is worth saving, above and beyond the amount that is made profitable by the increase of consumer buying. It is for the interests of the well to do – to protect them from the results of their own folly – that we should take from them a sufficient amount of their surplus to enable consumers to consume and business to operate at a profit. This is not “soaking the rich”; it is saving the rich. Incidentally, it is the only way to assure them the serenity and security which they do not have at the present moment.”


          From Eccles’ book, “Beckoning Frontiers,” in 1966.

          “As mass production has to be accompanied by mass consumption, mass consumption, in turn, implies a distribution of wealth, … to provide men (sic) with buying power. … Instead of achieving that kind of distribution, a giant suction pump, had by 1929 – 30 drawn into a few hands an increasing proportion of currently produced wealth … The other fellows could only stay in the game by borrowing. When their credit ran out, the game stopped.” –Marrineer Eccles



    2. Good professors fear the end of tenure because it has been a hard earned benefit of all the work, time, and money they invest in their careers. It would sort of be like a hard working corporate executive suddenly having perks of their job taken away, like access to a company car or parachute compensation (if they are fired or the company goes under), or whatever the case might be.

      Further, tenure prevents an administrator from firing them simply because they don’t like them or don’t like their opinions on certain issues. With education so often intersecting with politics here in Wisconsin (especially over the past five years), that would be an obvious concern.

    3. Denis, I would wager the percentage of lousy elected republicans is the same as “lousy” profs … Wait, never mind!

  3. Greed. Plain and simple answer. It would be hard to fathom any of the UW alumni supporting any of this agenda. You have to reallize they love playing big shot and having their campaign coffers loaded up. They also have an attitude similar to teenagers doing drugs thinking, everyone else is doing it why not me. My question is, did these politicians start out corrupt or did they change due to power and money? That is the question Alberta and the rest need to ask themselves while looking in a mirror.

  4. WISGOP is told to lower wages and worker protections by those who sponsor them and they simply do it. It could be private sector workers one day. Public school teachers another day. It is not surprising in the least they eventually made their way down the list to university professors. Someone mentioned the Packers in their comments. Don’t worry. Players unions will ultimately come under attack and perhaps in Wisconsin first given our Governor’s ambitions. “First they came for the socialists…” and so on. There’s an easy solution – vote for the Party not committed to lowering wages. What am I missing?

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