At this moment, no one teaching in the University of Wisconsin system has tenure. This summer, Act 55 took tenure out of state statute at the same time that it eviscerated shared governance, rendering the latter merely “advisory” instead of its former status as legally enshrined policy. While there had been talk of ending indefinite status for academic staff, the law that ultimately passed the Wisconsin Legislature left that alone, for the time being.
Make no mistake about it: this assault on academic freedom and shared governance constitutes a menace to everyone working at the University of Wisconsin. Along with massive budget cuts, the very functioning of the university is at stake.
The threat to tenure and academic freedom potentially constrains research and teaching, as well as administration and program development. Curtailing shared governance could mean that the majority of us will have far less say in the way our academic units as well as the university as a whole are run.
As the academic year begins, many of us find the excitement and optimism of September dampened by our concerns about these changes. We are uncertain of the future, concerned about the way this concerted assault may damage the University of Wisconsin as a whole.
At the same time, preparing for the autumn onslaught of students is an essentially optimistic activity, relying as it does on our collective and individual aspirations for the coming academic year. During this time it is easy to be reminded of how interdependent we are with our colleagues. As a practicing historical researcher and teacher, I am reliant on graduate assistants, on librarians, and programs staffed and created by colleagues around campus.
The interdependence of academic labor is more important now, at this moment of crisis, than ever. Academic work is inherently interdependent: we rely on the work of colleagues in our research and teaching, program development and administration. In order to defend the very existence of the university, we need to work together more and harder than ever before.
One Faculty , a current slogan of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), aptly expresses our interdependence. Act 55 eviscerates tenure and faculty governance, essentially putting tenure-track faculty, academic staff and graduate students in similar positions in terms of both academic freedom and job security. This law is a direct assault on the University of Wisconsin system. Countering it means forging new relationships of collegiality and interdependence.
The AAUP holds time-tested guidelines for university policies on academic freedom and faculty governance. Universally respected, these policies act as a standard with which to evaluate post-Act 55 changes. In tandem with established shared governance, our new UWM AAUP scrutinizes changes in the UW system, holding them to the nationally established standards.
This summer, almost hundred faculty, academic staff and graduate students at UWM attended the founding meeting of our campus chapter of AAUP. In a short meeting, we ratified bylaws and elected officers. Since that time, we have been working to establish an organization to represent all faculty, graduate students and academic staff as one faculty. The UWM chapter of AAUP offers us a way to support of our university against the policy changes and budget cuts we currently confront.
The way forward is together. Join us.
Rachel Ida Buff