Statements, UW System

Resolution against Proposed Changes to UW System Administrative Policy on Low-Degree-Producing Programs

[PDF version for download here]

Whereas American higher education has flourished for over a century under a system of joint governance, in which each governance body exercises its primary responsibility in collaboration with the other bodies;

Whereas shared governance and tenure have been essential to maintaining a high quality education;

Whereas the American Association of University Professors has played a central role in defining the standards of practice necessary for maintaining strong education for the public good;

Whereas the University of Wisconsin has been a leader in joint governance as well as in forwarding a model of education, the Wisconsin Idea, in which education, free from partisan attacks, can benefit the citizens of the state;

Whereas the model of shared governance has been articulated by the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, jointly formulated by the American Council on Education, the Association of Governing Boards (AGB), and the American Association of University Professors and most recently described in an AGB whitepaper on shared governance as remaining an “an important touchpoint” for governance in the twenty-first century (Shared Governance, 2017);

Whereas the Statement on Government recognizes that the “variety and complexity of the tasks performed by institutions of higher education produce an inescapable interdependence among governing board, administration, faculty, students, and others” (AAUP, Policy Documents and Reports, 11th ed., 2015, p. 118) and further expresses the need for each to work with the others with respect of their area of primary responsibility;

Whereas it further specifies that in the faculty’s primary area of responsibility the other bodies should actively collaborate with the faculty and generally defer to its judgment:

The faculty has primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process. On these matters the power of review or final decision lodged in the governing board or delegated by it to the president should be exercised adversely only in exceptional circumstances, and for reasons communicated to the faculty. … The governing board and president should, on questions of faculty status, as in other matters where the faculty has primary responsibility, concur with the faculty judgment except in rare instances and for compelling reasons which should be stated in detail. (AAUP, Policy Documents and Reports, 11th ed., 2015, p. 120)

Whereas so essential was shared governance to establishing and maintaining a high-quality education for the state that, upon the merger of the state’s educational systems to create the University of Wisconsin System, the principle was enshrined in Wisconsin State Statute 36.09 (“Responsibilities”);

Whereas Wis. Stat. 36.09 describes the primary responsibilities as vested in the governance bodies of the Board of Regents, the UW System President, the chancellors, and the faculty in such a way that each is to consult with the others for the good of the UW System and the citizens of the state;

Whereas Wis. Stat. 36.09(4) maintains that the faculty have primary responsibility over curriculum, academic matters, and faculty personnel matters;

Whereas Wis. Stat. 36 assumes that the Board of Regents and the UW System President will exercise their responsibility in active collaboration with, and deference to, other governance bodies; and therefore Wis. Stat. 36.09(1)(a) specifies that the Board of Regents must “promote the widest degree of institutional autonomy” in exercising its policy-making authority;

Whereas the faculty, students, and citizens of the state have witnessed a concerted attack on higher education – and the University of Wisconsin System – as evidenced by the 2015–17 biennial budget, which simultaneously cut the state budget for the university by $250,000,000 and introduced changes to state statute that weakened tenure and introduced a broad mechanism by which academic programs could be modified and redirected and faculty and academic staff terminated;

Whereas contrary to efforts from faculty across the state and contrary to public calls from the AAUP and AFT-Wisconsin, the Regents wrote policies that provided the mechanism by which Wis. Stat. 36.21 (“Termination due to certain budget or program changes”) and Wis. Stat. 36.22 (“Layoff or termination of faculty member due to certain budget or program changes”) could be employed;

Whereas the AAUP and AFT-Wisconsin, after seeing drafts of what was to become Regent policy in RPD 20-24, “Procedures Relating to Financial Emergency or Program Discontinuance Requiring Faculty Layoff and Termination,” issued the following statement:

We remain concerned, however, that some of the provisions in the draft regent policy documents fall far short of those standards. Particularly alarming is the inclusion of a provision for program prioritization based primarily on financial considerations for the purpose of discontinuing academic programs and laying off faculty. Actions taken by administrations at several universities in the name of program prioritization have led to investigations of violations of academic freedom and tenure as well as the imposition of censure by the AAUP (February 3, 2016);

Whereas the AAUP/AFT-WI statement stated further: “We remain concerned about the primary purpose of the legislative changes to tenure, due process, and shared governance, and we will have to reserve judgment as to the adequacy of the proposed policies to safeguard these bedrocks of US higher education until we see how they will be applied within the UW System”;

Whereas once the policies surrounding tenure, including RPD 20-24, were passed by the Board of Regents, the AAUP issued its statement, “Tenure Weakened in Wisconsin,” in which it concluded that “it is now clear that the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents has adopted a policy that provides weaker protections of tenure, and thus of academic freedom, than what has long been the norm in Wisconsin and than what is called for under the standards approved by the American Association of University Professors” (“Tenure Weakened,” March 10, 2016);

Whereas it is now apparent that a mechanism is in place by which the UW System Administration asserts the right to make decisions in academic matters, including curriculum, without consultation of the faculty;

Whereas that management involves evaluating the curriculum without reference to its benefits to the local institution or region; thus it substitutes its own singular metric – number of majors graduated per year – for the faculty’s and even local administrative judgment;

Whereas the power to designate programs for closure would be given to the UW System Administration, which has no faculty on it, while the institutions, including the faculty, would be accorded the power only to appeal that System-initiated closure process, or to decide how to implement those decisions;

Whereas this policy was created by a task force with little transparency, without any publicly available charge, agenda, or minutes, and with the faculty asked only to review and provide comments online as one of several “key stakeholders” (Interview, Schmitt and Simmons, November 16, 2018);

Whereas centralized control over programs can be used to modify, redirect, and curtail programs in such a way as to lead to faculty and academic staff termination under Wis. Stat. 36.21 and 36.22 and their implementation in RPD 20-24;

Whereas the UW System Administration asserts that it has the power to make policy affecting curriculum by what amounts to administrative fiat, since all working groups established, and even the recommendation of the Vice President, are advisory to the UW System President, who is said to have the power to enact this policy through his signature alone;

Whereas the UW System Administration lays claim to these powers through proposed modifications to section 6.3 of UW System Administrative Policy 102 (SYS 102(6.3));

Be it resolved that the proposed changes to SYS 102(6.3) should be rescinded;

Further, the decision to preserve or to eliminate an academic program should remain at local campuses where mission, strategic goals, interrelations with other programs, student needs, and other factors can be considered and where the primary role of the faculty for academic matters and curriculum can be honored;

Further, any processes required to assess a program should be established by the local institution and, therefore, any “appeal” regarding program decisions, as deemed necessary, should be heard and evaluated by existing faculty governance procedures; and

Finally, UW System should refrain from taking responsibility away from existing faculty governance in local curriculum decisions.

 

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