June 21st, 2015
It’s common to fret over unintended consequences. But what about intended consequences?
In Wisconsin, lawmakers are debating a proposed change to state law that would weaken tenure protections at the University of Wisconsin system’s schools . If it passes, faculty could be terminated whenever “such an action is deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision.” Twenty-one scholarly associations, including the American Historical Association, the Association of College & Research Libraries and the Modern Language Association, denounced this effort for its threat to shared governance and academic freedom. And, to be sure, those are threats not to be minimized. In the age of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings,” academic freedom is under siege.
Little is being said, however, about the law’s explicitly stated purpose: to pave the way for the elimination of faculty appointments in fields that simply do not seem worth continued investment, not because a faculty member holds an unpopular or controversial opinion but because he or she teaches in a currently unpopular field. The very point of this proposal is to give the University of Wisconsin system the flexibility to reduce staffing in specific areas.