Tenure at UW System now seen as bellwether by educators across U.S.

Karen Herzog:

Last week, two conservative educators — both University of Wisconsin-Madison professors — echoed much of what many of their liberal-leaning colleagues have been saying for weeks, albeit with a twist.

Changing tenure rules would put their viewpoints at risk, too, Donald Downs and John Sharpless wrote in a Politico piece.

“As far as college campuses go, we’re a rare, endangered species: two long-tenured professors who lean right and libertarian,” the political science professor and history professor, respectively, wrote. “But we’re increasingly worried that in trying to take up another conservative crusade, our governor, Scott Walker, is going to silence the very voices he claims to support.”

Without strong tenure protections, they wrote, “professors like us who fight for free speech and liberty — values Walker himself espouses — could be even more at risk of being targeted on college campuses for our beliefs.”

Sharpless was a Republican candidate for Congress in a tight race with Democrat Tammy Baldwin in 2000; Downs served on his campaign strategy and finance committees. Both were leaders of the free speech/academic freedom movement at UW-Madison in the 1990s, when conservative and liberal professors with tenure protection stood together against speech codes that were perceived as censorship.

The second assumption in the national debate is that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — a certain presidential candidate in 2016 — is the behind-the-scenes architect of the provisions in the GOP plan put forward by the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee on May 29.

It’s unclear what role the governor played, if any, in the layoff language that faculty are most upset about. Walker has been noticeably silent on the matter.