Shared Governance under Attack in Wisconsin
Since its founding in 1915, the AAUP has sought to ensure meaningful faculty participation in institutional governance.
Last fall, we spoke out when the University of Wisconsin system board of regents announced a plan to merge the system’s two- and four-year institutions—a plan made without meaningful faculty input. It was the latest in a number of unilateral and secretive actions taken by system leaders, the state legislature, and Governor Scott Walker, condemned at the time by the AAUP and AFT Wisconsin as constituting “a concerted attack on the university as a public good and on the university’s role in fostering democratic participation.”
The day after the news of the proposed merger, President Cross, facing backlash from faculty, staff, and students, wrote the following in an email message to a system regent: “Getting hammered by the ‘shared governance’ leaders because they weren’t involved in the process; however, had they been involved we wouldn’t be doing anything!!”
President Cross’s remarks, which came to light last week, have drawn quick condemnation. The lone student representative on the twenty-five-member restructuring committee immediately released a statement that read in part: “It is my sincere hope that divisive sentiments toward the employees and students of the University of Wisconsin System will no longer be tolerated. The comments made were simply inappropriate and must be addressed immediately.”
The UW-Madison chapter of the AAUP followed with an open letter to President Cross, expressing its “deep concern about your willful disregard for the role of shared governance” and concluding: “With the surfacing of your emails, it is particularly difficult for people who are supposed to share responsibility with you in governing this institution to have any confidence in your leadership. When you treat the core principle of shared governance as a concept so worthy of derision and disregard that you surround it with ‘air quotes’ in an email to a member of the Board of Regents, it is difficult to envision ever regaining that confidence. In short, your attitude and words have done further damage to an already damaged relationship.”
The AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance joins the growing chorus of voices denouncing President Cross’s ill-judged remarks and calling on him to explain them. The committee further calls on President Cross to work actively with faculty, staff, and students on developing policies and practices that will restore a meaningful and productive system of shared governance.
The importance of shared governance to protecting academic freedom and quality higher education cannot be overstated. The AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities notes that “a college or university in which all the components are aware of their interdependence, of the usefulness of communication among themselves, and of the force of joint action will enjoy increased capacity to solve educational problems.” And a recent white paper on shared governance issued by the Association of Governing Boards concludes that “shared governance is an essential component of America’s higher education institutions that needs to be preserved and enhanced.”
The AAUP will continue to monitor the situation in Wisconsin.
American Association of University Professors