Let’s hope that higher education reform will play a significant role in the election.

Carl M. Cannon examines the issue at Real Clear Politics.

Can College Tenure Survive the 2016 Election?

University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank recently sent a letter to the governor, Scott Walker, asking him to veto a provision in the state’s new budget that would weaken the tenure provisions of the university’s faculty. The Wisconsin legislature wasn’t making a value judgment — at least not in the budget — it was simply considering codifying state law to say that during fiscal belt-tightening, faculty members in the state’s system of higher education could be laid off as a result of budget cuts or changes in program direction.

Naturally, the University of Wisconsin faculty began shrieking about threats to “academic freedom,” but Chancellor Blank took a wiser approach. Noting that faculty at Wisconsin’s “peer institutions” (rival schools) can only be laid off “when there is just cause, financial emergency or program discontinuance for educational reasons,” Blank suggested that altering that formula would make Wisconsin a less attractive professional destination. In other words, the school would be at a competitive disadvantage with other universities in attracting and retaining top talent.

Although the letter had little chance of changing Walker’s mind, the chancellor made a valid argument, and she did so in a measured way calculated to appeal to Republicans who trust the wisdom of the marketplace. Ultimately, the state’s legislature gave Walker less in the way of higher education budget cuts than he sought; and the hard decision on tenure was kicked down the road. The change in the law now empowers the Board of Regents of the state’s university system to set tenure policies, but the regents have exhibited little inclination to do so.