The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents has approved controversial changes to system tenure and layoff policies, even though faculty members have warned that it could make it harder to recruit or attract top talent to institutions statewide.

During a meeting in Madison Thursday morning, the Board adopted a series of revisions to existing faculty tenure policy, along with policies for how those with tenure can be dismissed in the event of a fiscal emergency. The move comes in the week of changes to tenure Republican lawmakers made in the state last state budget. Regent President Regina Millner argued the new provisions will provide chancellors with the tools to control their resources, while protecting academic freedom. “I am confident that the UW System will be in a strong position going forward,” she said.

The board took up a series of amendments to the policies, rejecting several measures backed by faculty that supporters argue were needed to protect academic freedom. UW-Eau Claire political science professor Geoff Peterson warned regents about the “deep concerns” faculty throughout the system have about their futures, and urged members to consider changes to the policy that would put academic program needs ahead of fiscal concerns. “For us the issue is academic reasons must take priority…academic reasons for program existence or program discontinuance must always be the first step in consideration of a program,” he said.

Regent Jose Vasquez repeatedly questioned the proposals, saying his opposition was largely due to never receiving an adequate answer for why changes in tenure are necessary. He also noted that many of the fiscal problems facing the UW System are the result of tuition freezes and budget cuts imposed by the Legislature. “It wasn’t tenure that caused the fiscal crisis. It wasn’t faculty that were entrenched and didn’t want to terminate programs,” he argued.

Several regents defended the need for changes though, pointing out that tenure in the UW System has remained largely unchanged since the late 1970s. Regent Margaret Farrow argued that a 21st Century approach is needed because the world is a different place. “We have pressures, we have problems, we have issues that did not even have a name back then,” she said.

The policies are the result of a task force that was established last year, in the wake of the state budget changes. Individual UW System campuses will now have to adapt them into their procedures.

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