Catholic theologians vote to support tenure in Wisconsin

This story appears in the CTSA 2015 feature series. View the full series.

by Heidi Schlumpf

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MILWAUKEE -- Members of the Catholic Theological Society of America passed a resolution Friday to support fellow academics in Wisconsin by opposing a plan by state lawmakers to weaken tenure and shared governance in the state’s higher education system. The resolution passed by voice vote with only a few opposing or abstaining.

“As a gathering of professors committed to the work of education, the members of the Catholic Theological Society of America express our support for Wisconsin’s superb higher education system, and our solidarity with its professors in their efforts to maintain excellence in higher education through a reaffirmation of tenure and recommitment to shared governance,” the resolution said.

The resolution was submitted by Francis X. Clooney, SJ, of Harvard Divinity School, and seconded by Bernard McGarty, formerly of Virterbo University in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. It was also unanimously approved by the CTSA’s Resolution Committee.

“Since we’re meeting in Wisconsin, we should be mindful of the local situation,” Clooney said during a hearing of the Resolution Committee earlier Friday. “Because our role is in higher education, we should express some solidarity to issues related to tenure, academic freedom and issues of governance.”

As a CTSA member living in Wisconsin, McGarty praised the resolution. “It is really important for this society to say to professors in the state system that we’re in solidarity with them,” he said at the Resolution Committee meeting.

Wisconsin is the only state where academic tenure is protected by law, but a budget plan approved by the GOP-controlled legislature's Joint Finance Committee would remove that safeguard for professors in the state university system.

The plan is backed by Gov. Scott Walker, who is expected to announce a bid for the Republican presidential nomination soon. Earlier in the year, Walker’s administration proposed changes to the university’s mission that would delete the phrase “search for truth” and instead include “meeting the state’s workforce needs.” Those changes were later dropped.

One CTSA member raised questions about whether passing the resolution might create controversy, since two years ago the CTSA tabled a proposed resolution on “religious liberty” related to the contraception mandate for health care plans.

But several members spoke in favor of the resolution and noted that faculty at other institutions faced similar challenges.

“I think the push by Gov. Walker is part of a larger trend whereby a corporate model is being pushed in higher education,” said Roman Luzarraga of Benedictine University in Mesa, Arizona. “Professors are being marginalized.”

The 70th annual convention of the CTSA is being held in Milwaukee June 11-14. The theme of the conference is “Sensus Fidelium.”

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