There are 158 employees at UW-Milwaukee whose probationary terms could be switched to fixed term contracts – likely two years long – if the full Legislature approves a Joint Finance Committee measure ordering the Regents to eliminate indefinite status for academic staff in the UW System.
As a result, they are on what the chancellor calls a “highly accelerated timeline” to try to obtain indefinite status before the door could slam July 1, pushing up a process that usually takes years.
Those numbers emerged when the Academic Staff Senate met Tuesday at UW-Milwaukee to discuss the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee action that would mean no one could get indefinite status after July 1 if they don’t already have it. That action requires approval by the Legislature.
In the budget, tenure could be remade as policy by the Regents, but indefinite status could not. This has led to a scramble in which academic staff who are in probationary status are being told they have to rush their files within days if they want a chance at indefinite status.It’s normally a six-year process.
In a statement to the university, Chancellor Mark Mone said, “We are encouraging legislators to reconsider their actions on indefinite status and allow the Board of Regents to establish policies related to academic staff appointments through the new University Personnel System.”
In the interim, Mone said in a university-wide email on Wednesday that people whose indefinite status files were approved by supervisors and forwarded to higher administrators that day or Thursday would be put on a “highly accelerated timeline.” The “review process normally takes months,” he said.
Indefinite status is the non-PhD equivalent of tenure, which provides just-cause-only termination. 158 staff at UWM hold probation status, meaning they are on track to indefinite status. Most of those on probation are non-instructional.
The staff members on probation status are currently divided into four groups: the first being that they have been already approved for indefinite status, the second meaning their files are in the review process, the third with files almost complete for review, and the fourth who cannot apply for indefinite status, according to an email summary of the meeting sent to the university’s academic staff.
The academic staff in the fourth group would be switched to a two-year fixed term contract, which is renewable, by recommendation from administration. This is ultimately up to the department supervisor or unit.
Two-year fixed contracts are controversial because they don’t ensure long-term job permanence.
Contracts that are contrary to state law are void, which is why those on probationary contracts would be listed specifically as being changed to fixed term, according to Joely Urdan, Director of Legal Affairs. Again, this is all contingent on what the full Legislature determines.
The Dean or division heads of departments are responsible for determining whether the indefinite status contracts are feasible under the short-deadline in order to keep the integrity of the process and prevent mistakes, the email summary said.
Academic staff already holding indefinite status, or those with prior fixed-term contracts, will not experience this change. In 2014, there were 84 instructional academic staff, 230 non-instructional, and 17 research academic staff at UWM with indefinite status. The number of academic staff overall is greater than faculty. However, more academic staff are already fixed term than are probationary or with indefinite status. See this report.
Vice Chancellor Tom Luljak is still lobbying for changes to the item about indefinite status. His first choice would be to have the item about removing indefinite status eliminated.
A potential future silver lining is that UW is then authorized to have merit raises outside of the UW system pay plan, which would cost additional money, the email summary noted. However the System is also facing a $250 million budget cut.
Mone made note that these changes with indefinite status are not something the UWM committee would like to do, but is necessary with the limited timeline given.
The meeting is available online for streaming at: