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Newfield calls for new strategy to protect faculty rights

July 22, 2015

Referring to the recent fight in Wisconsin, an essay in Inside Higher Ed by Christopher Newfield, a WISCAPE affiliate, calls for a new strategy to respond to future attacks on faculty rights and justify their value and function.

Newfield says that the final decision by the Wisconsin legislature to significantly weaken academic tenure and shared governance "teaches a lesson that should resonate beyond Wisconsin: the standard defense of tenure and shared governance isn’t good enough to address widespread skepticism about their public benefits."

"To motivate the wider public," he explains, "these rights should be presented as general public benefits, not as special privileges."

"[R]ather than casting tenure and shared governance as necessary exceptions to normal workplace politics," he continues, "we should define them as necessary to workplaces in general. Tenure is a simple idea: protection from the at-will employment practice of firing any employee without cause or due process. Tenure places an obligation on the employer not only to identify specific reasons for termination but to convince others of their validity."

"Tenure doesn’t just protect academic freedom; it protects all employees’ investments in their skills, relationships, know-how, and commitment to their organization."

Christopher Newfield is a professor of English at the University of California at Santa Barbara, author of Unmaking the Public University (Harvard University Press) and co-editor of the blog Remaking the University.

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