Medieval Academy Response to Wisconsin Proposal

To the Members of the Medieval Academy,

This morning, the letter copied below was sent on behalf of the Officers and Council of the Medieval Academy to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents and the State Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance, in response to the Joint Committee’s proposed policies that threaten to reduce tenure protections in the University of Wisconsin system.  The letter is also available online here.

We will keep you informed as this situation develops.

To the Wisconsin Board of Regents and Members of the Joint Finance Committee,

The Medieval Academy of America, the largest learned society in the world devoted to the study of the Middle Ages, joins with other scholars and learned societies to express our alarm and dismay that the Wisconsin legislature is considering proposals that will undermine shared governance, tenure, and academic freedom.

The U. S. system of higher education intentionally and for good reason situates control of hiring and internal policies within educational institutions themselves. Tenure, in particular, when granted after a rigorous evaluation period, ensures classroom independence and free speech by removing the threat of retributive termination. As the statement released by more than a dozen of our fellow learned societies so aptly put it, “Academic freedom is the foundation of intellectual discovery, including in the classroom. It nourishes the environment within which students develop critical habits of mind through encounters with diverse perspectives, experiences, and sources of evidence across disciplines. Our democracy depends on the educated citizens that this system is intended to produce: wide-ranging in their knowledge, rigorous in their ability to understand complicated questions, and dedicated to the public good.”

The policies recommended by the Joint Finance Committee, now under consideration as part of the Wisconsin 2016 budget, pose a serious threat to academic freedom by expanding the circumstances under which tenure can be revoked and removing its protection under state statute. In the name of improving the state’s fiscal situation (and without evidence that these policies will achieve this goal), the committee risks seriously damaging a distinguished educational system that has been the pride of Wisconsin – and of the United States – for more than a century and a half. The State of Wisconsin was among the first states to support the concept of academic freedom in 1894, when the Board of Regents refused to terminate the employment of economist Richard Ely who was under fire for teaching the benefits of labor unions. The Board supported his right to free speech and academic freedom. We now urge the State legislature to reject the proposals brought before it and show its support for the proud Wisconsin tradition of academic freedom and free speech.

– The Council and Leadership of the Medieval Academy of America

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