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Faculty Senate urges study of public authority, preservation of shared governance

March 3, 2015 By Greg Bump

The Faculty Senate on Monday called for more study of a proposal to convert the University of Wisconsin System from a state agency to a public authority and passed a measure opposing the removal of shared governance from state statute.

Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2015-17 budget recommends converting the UW System to a public authority. The budget bill is being taken up by the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee and must be approved by both legislative houses before it goes back to Walker for his signature, likely in June.

The Senate approved a resolution stating that it cannot support a public authority until more vetting is done and calling for the Board of Regents to appoint a commission of UW System faculty, students and staff to study the viability of the model. The resolution calls for the commission to issue a public report on its findings before the end of this legislative session.

Jo Ellen Fair, chair of the University Committee, said she has heard from faculty who favor a public authority and others who oppose it. She said the resolution was introduced because more information is needed about the proposal.

Some senators and other faculty urged taking a stronger stance on public authority. Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of educational policy studies and sociology, said the Senate should not support the proposal in its current form.

“By doing nothing here you are in fact, de facto, endorsing it,” Goldrick-Rab said.

Nancy Kendall, associate professor of educational policy studies, urged caution in staking out a position.

“It is dangerous to be in support or against a public authority model until we know more about it,” Kendall said. “I urge us to not make it easy to push ahead assumptions of what a public authority will do for us.”

Chancellor Rebecca Blank told the Senate that her administration continues to analyze the public authority proposal. As state support for higher education shrinks, she said, a move toward greater autonomy for universities is inevitable and the management flexibilities offered in the public authority model could provide benefits in the long term.

“Now is the moment of opportunity and I think we should take advantage of it,” she said.

She encouraged faculty, staff and students to engage in the process.

“A lot of details have to be worked out and some of those details, if they went in the wrong direction, could change all our minds about the value of a public authority,” Blank said. “Everyone agrees we have to get it right.”

Gov. Walker’s budget proposal would also remove language on shared governance from state statute and place it in Board of Regent policy. The Faculty Senate resolution opposes the move.

But if shared governance is repealed, the Faculty Senate urged legislators to recreate the language verbatim in Regent policy. The Senate resolution calls for all shared governance units – administration, faculty, academic staff, classified staff and student governance – to be recognized in the new policy, for current shared governance processes to continue without interruption, and for all shared governance partners to be involved in any changes to Regent policy regarding shared governance.

Regent Vice President Regina Millner met earlier in the day with the University Committee and other governance leaders to talk about the budget proposal. Millner told the panel that she strongly supports maintaining the system of shared governance and tenure and assured the committee that both principles will remain in Regent policy should legislators adopt the governor’s recommendation.

At a forum Monday night hosted by the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, those who attended applauded the resolutions approved by the Faculty Senate.

The panelists for the event included WISCAPE Director Noel Radomski, Goldrick-Rab and fellow education professor Harry Brighouse, and junior Derek Field, vice chairman of Associated Students of Madison. The discussion with the audience of about 100 touched on the challenges of the budget proposals and how other UW System schools might be better positioned to oppose the plans.