ON-Lion Letter

A February special report from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) in Milwaukee, The Trouble with Tenure, contains two new pieces of research -- "How the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents can make professors accountable to taxpayers and students" and "What do UW instructors without tenure -- the ones doing much of the teaching -- think?"

"You won't find a defense of the status quo in these pages.  Wisconsin can't afford that," according to a note from WPRI president Mike Nichols at the beginning of the report.  Nor will you find a full-throated argument that tenure should be abolished outright. 

"You will find carefully considered recommendations informed by people like Charles Sorensen, the former UW-Stout chancellor who knows the UW System inside and out," Nichols continues.  "You will also find the fascinating and informative results of a survey of the folks who teach in the UW System but don’t have tenure.  Conducted by Ike Brannon, a former tenured UW-Oshkosh professor who now runs Capital Policy Analytics, the results include a key finding:  A majority of those surveyed do believe that tenure is a good indication of the quality of research.  Only about 30%, however, feel it is a good indication of the quality of instruction or impact on the community, business or economy.

"The truth is that tenure can be valuable when used for the right reasons, in the right places.  Regents, though, can do more," Nichols concludes, "to make sure leaders of individual campuses have the flexibility they need to be responsive to students and the job market.  In the meantime, individual campuses and the Extension -- which vary greatly in their focus on research or on instruction or on community interaction -- should be asked to articulate exactly how and when tenure is helpful and when it isn't."

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

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