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Q&A on tenure protection proposal

September 22, 2015

An ad hoc committee of faculty members charged with recommending policies to continue strong tenure protections in response to legislative changes made in the 2015-17 state budget has released a report with recommendations.

The committee’s report was approved Monday by the University Committee. The Faculty Senate is expected to have a first reading of the proposal at its meeting on Oct. 5, and could vote on it as early as its Nov. 2 meeting. The policies and procedures would also need approval from the UW System Board of Regents.

Faculty listening sessions are scheduled for Sept. 29 from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. in room 1306 of the Health Sciences Learning Center; Sept. 30 from 5 to 7 p.m. in room 1220 of Microbial Sciences; and Oct. 1 from 5 to 7 p.m. in B10, Ingraham Hall. The committee suggests sharing feedback with your senator, should you not be able to attend.

The answers below were written by Professor Dorothy Farrar-Edwards, a member of the University Committee who chaired the ad hoc committee on tenure and termination, Vice Provost for Faculty and Staff Programs Michael Bernard-Donals, and Secretary of the Faculty Steven Smith.

If you have specific questions, email the Secretary of the Faculty at

Q: How does this differ from protections faculty had six months ago?

A: Six months ago the only reasons a faculty member could be laid off were for cause or financial exigency. Now, statutory changes in Act 55 permit the laying off of a faculty member for cause or due to program discontinuance, curtailment, modification, or redirection. This proposed policy makes clear that any decisions about program changes are vested in the faculty. Under this proposed policy, faculty may not be laid off for reason of program redirection, curtailment or modification. In cases of program elimination, this proposed policy obliges the university to make tenured or tenure-track positions and retraining available to any affected faculty members. Further, in cases where alternative positions cannot be found, the policy provides a comprehensive process for review and appeal before layoff could be effected and creates a new obligation for the university to pay severance.

Q: How do the protections in this proposal compare to protections at peer institutions?

A: This policy is entirely consistent with protections at peer institutions and, importantly, is also consistent with American Association of University Professors (AAUP) guidelines. The committee looked at policies from 20 peer institutions and sought advice from the AAUP, which resulted in a policy that is as strong as that of our peers.

Q: How does this proposal address the concerns regarding tenure protections at UW–Madison?

A: As per AAUP guidelines, tenured faculty cannot be terminated for reasons of program redirection, modification or curtailment. A simple change in the nature of a program is not enough to trigger a faculty termination. The policy not only makes it incumbent on the institution to make every effort to find a position for faculty members affected by program discontinuance, it also details a rigorous appeals process based on shared governance that is as strong as that of any of our peers. We are using all the shared governance tools at our disposal to make any case in which a faculty member could be laid off extremely rare.