ON-Lion Letter

Eighty-nine percent of almost 1,400 members of the University of Wisconsin System faculty with tenure or on the tenure track say that if tenure were replaced with contracts, they would consider leaving for a college or university in another state, and a majority says it would be less likely to undertake ambitious research or discuss controversial topics, according to a survey by University of Chicago professor William Howell for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) in Milwaukee.

But support for tenure in practice in specific schools and departments, opinions about how the process actually works, and feedback on whether tenure is a good measure of quality vary widely.

Overall, for example, 65% strongly support the practice in the department in which they work, and another 25% somewhat support it, according to the survey by Howell -- himself a former UW-Madison professor.  But support is much stronger among those who already have tenure.  Among tenured faculty, 72% strongly support it; among those on the tenure track but who don't yet have it, 42% strongly support it.

Slightly more than half of all respondents (51%) say the current post-tenure review process is largely a pro forma exercise that has little bearing on their professional activities.  (Faculty at the four-year schools outside Milwaukee and Madison are the most critical of the post-tenure review process; faculty at the two-year colleges and the UW-Extension are the least critical).  Forty-nine percent overall say the review process is a valuable check that ensures they remain productive and active contributors.

And only 36% overall (31% at the Madison and Milwaukee campuses) think tenure is a good indication of impact on the community, business, or economy most of the time or always.

"Part of the mission of our public universities is to promote economic well-being, to make sure the publicly supported expertise on our campuses is shared with business and industry and the rest of our Wisconsin community," according to WPRI president Mike Nichols.  "As we've pointed out in prior research, this has to emanate from the faculty.  Unfortunately, it looks like we have no good way of knowing if most of them are doing that part of their jobs."

Milwaukee's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation substantially supports WPRI.

Actions: E-mail | Permalink |