The formal decline of tenure in Wisconsin has coincided with renewed media interest in faculty pay. System President Ray Cross said in an interview earlier last week that, while changes to tenure “are causes to make faculty nervous…the real reason I think faculty are being lured away is compensation packages.” The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on faculty retention efforts at UW-Madison, detailing the tens of thousands of dollars in raises and additional research funds that a handful of faculty have negotiated in the face of job offers from elsewhere. The casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that the end of tenure will bring a financial windfall for UW professors near and far.
Indeed, the elephant in the room last Thursday was money, particularly the Regents’ apparent unwillingness or inability to advocate for more of it in the face of legislative slashing and burning. The overarching goal of the new policies, we were repeatedly told, is to give chancellors flexibility. Flexibility, of course, is code for a host of austerity measures predicated on the consolidation of power in administrative hands. It can also be read here as a byword for Regental buck-passing: far from standing up to legislators, the Regents have turned around and told chancellors to stand up to faculty, all while adopting policies that create a glide path for further cuts. The time to draw a line in the sand was yesterday; instead, our new flexibility-enhanced chancellors will be able to use program prioritization and other means to enact a kind of financial emergency in slow motion.