It’s the Symbolism that Counts

Posted in Weekly Newsletter on by .

truth-257159_640“But putting tenure in Regents policy carries less weight, especially symbolically, than having the ironclad protection of state law, said Noel Radomski, director of UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education. He said the loss of tenure will have immediate impact.”—Wisconsin State Journal, May 30, 2015

First of all, tenure isn’t being “lost” to University of Wisconsin faculty.  Second, we’re reliably informed that Wisconsin is the only state that specifically guarantees tenure in statute law, yet we don’t see faculties in other states depopulating as professors flee to take refuge in Wisconsin, lest their profound ideas be subject to political repression.

In fact, that’s acknowledged, eleven paragraphs into the story, so are Wisconsin faculty, who seem sure to retain an extraordinary level of protection, going to be seduced into leaving for other states that offer less?

No doubt hoping to paint a picture of Republican recklessness, the State Journal reporters linked above instead illuminate the unreality and lack of proportion that pervades academia, by referring to “the gravity of the [tenure] situation” and suggesting that it may be “of perhaps even more consequence” than a $250 million reduction in taxpayer support for the UW system.

What we’re left with is a nice illustration of academic bureaucracy leaping into action when it really counts, i.e., when it’s time to step up on behalf of inertia. Governor Walker’s initial budget set out to give the university system more autonomy in exchange for fewer tax dollars. To some, that sounds like freedom to do one’s job. To others, it stirs dread of having to make decisions and live with them.

It could be hoped that higher education would prepare people to enjoy precisely that: the freedom to take responsibility for their own decisions. Keep hoping.

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