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WISCONSIN SOCIOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION

JUNE 18, 2015 PRESS RELEASE:

The Wisconsin Sociological Association objects to the Joint Finance Committee’s 2016 budget recommendations for changes to the University of Wisconsin system which threaten tenure, shared governance, and academic freedom in Wisconsin.
  Any decision in that direction undermines the state and our country’s basis in the principle of freedom. 

Tenure has an important function in academia where scholars adopt the scientific method in research to reduce biases to see more clearly an entire picture while searching for new knowledge.  This method ensures all researchers accept results that sometimes contradict their own or others’ beliefs and that also scholars make public all discoveries through publications, conference presentations, public lectures, and via the classroom. Tenure provides protection for scholars when their discoveries upset more powerful entities that have interests in other outcomes.  Therefore, without tenure, the pursuit of knowledge is greatly compromised as researchers may shrink under the pressure of possible negative consequences to their jobs.  New knowledge is withheld, not only in its discipline but from the public and students. Everyone’s freedom to examine, discover, and learn new knowledge is surrendered when tenure is removed.

Shared governance is another facet of universities that ensures freedom for all to be involved and represented fairly—from students, faculty, and administrators to the general public.  Shared governance provides an opportunity for all voices to be included in decisions surrounding higher education. Increased diversity in the decision process ensures students’ experiences in the university are of high quality and matched to their diverse needs.  It also ensures faculty and administration have the resources and environment to support their efforts to create the best university for learning and scholarship. It allows the public to feel confident that taxes are supporting a fair system representative of all. Shared governance promotes the opportunity for all to be involved in the organization of the university. Without shared governance, the freedom to be represented is removed.

Academic freedom, partly pioneered by Wisconsin’s Board of Regents in 1894, allows everyone to ask questions without fear of consequences to their positions.  It provides a healthy and unmatched learning environment for diverse discourse and increased learning and discovery. Democracy relies on educated citizens who understand how to consider and navigate through complex issues, issues that often require critical thinking and compromise for the greater public. Without academic freedom, knowledge and thus further learning are compromised. Such losses lead to a decline in that ability to make informed decision for the greater good.

The Joint Finance Committee’s recommendations for the 2016 budget which compromise tenure, shared governance, and academic freedom in Wisconsin will undermine the state and our country’s basis in the principle of freedom.  The Wisconsin Sociological Association opposes the recommendation.

Signed,

Leda Nath, WSA President
Sheila Bluhm, WSA President-Elect
Robert Greene, WSA Secretary
Marlene Fisher, WSA Treasurer
Patricia Hart, WSA Assoc. Treasurer
Margarita Alario, WSA Editor for Sociological Imagination