Walker Vetoes Provision Eliminating Indefinite Status for UW

Gov. Scott Walker vetoed a provision in the biennial state budget on Sunday that would have turned all probationary contracts for academic staff in the UW System into fixed-term contracts.

The governor's veto message on indefinite status.

The governor’s veto message on indefinite status.

The Legislature would have mandated the elimination of indefinite status, the non-PhD equivalent of tenure, for about 158  academic staff at UW-Milwaukee, as well as more throughout the UW System.

In his veto message, Walker wrote that he felt there were too many unknowns at this point. “I object to making these changes without additional study to determine whether there are possible unintended consequences, particularly on certain programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” he noted.

Walker’s veto means that staff with probationary contracts or those who have not applied for indefinite status will not be forced into fixed term contracts, enhancing job security for many instructional and non-instructional staff. In a message to the campus community Monday, Sarah Morgan, the chair of the Academic Staff Committee, wrote, “we do not yet know all of the implications of this but will be working this week to gather more information and update everyone as we know more.”

Chancellor Mark Mone said in an email to campus that a budget meeting will be held July 16 from 1-2 p.m. in the Student Union, Ballroom East. He wrote that the meeting will include discussions of tenure, shared governance, and indefinite status as well as details about budgetary allocations to UWM.

The fixed term contracts (expected to be about 2 years long at UWM) were opposed by UWM staff and Mone, who was worried about the “highly accelerated timeline” of July 1 for applying for indefinite status before the budget signing. The process for applying for indefinite status normally takes six years.

Other provisions of the biennial state budget were passed that will affect the UW System including the $250 million budget cut to the system and removing tenure from state law. However, unlike the legislative mandate eliminating indefinite status, tenure can be remade as Regents’ policy.

There are 158 employees at UW-Milwaukee whose probationary terms could have been switched to fixed term contracts, and they were on a scramble to rush their cases before the budget signing, sometimes within just days.

In an earlier statement to the university, 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.”

Indefinite status is the non-PhD equivalent of tenure, which provides just-cause-only termination.

The staff members currently on probationary 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 sent previously to the university’s academic staff.

The academic staff in the fourth group would have been 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.

Academic staff already holding indefinite status, or those with prior fixed-term contracts, would not have been affected by the 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.

Chart from UWM budget office.