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As PROFS seeks to remove qualification for university leaders in state budget, Behling pushes back

At the Board of Regents meeting Friday, President John Behling said he wanted to expand the recruitment of leaders outside of academia.

Image By: Jon Yoon

Leaders at UW System schools could be recruited outside of academia if language in the 2017-2019 biennial budget remains, granting new Board of Regents President John Behling’s wish of recruiting leaders from the private sector.

Behling began Friday’s Board of Regents meeting with remarks encouraging the state to go about “streamlining the hiring process" for chancellors and other leadership positions. While the UW-System has no formal policy stating that chancellors, vice chancellors and presidents must be academia, Behling said he asked Regent Vice President Drew Petersen to head a working group.

“In addition to streamlining, I want to expand the recruitment to include leaders from outside of academia,” Behling said. “The University of Wisconsin makes sure our hiring process allows for a pool of candidates that is both diverse and dynamic.”

Behling said Petersen’s work group will analyze potential policy changes, coming up with a report and recommendation for the Board of Regents. Behling said by the end of the year, he hopes to have the body adopt new policies and procedures on hiring.

In his remarks, Behling said throughout the nation, the latest trend is for individuals in the private sector to lead universities. However opponents to the proposal cited a recently released study from the American Council on Education. Amongst their key findings was that 43 percent of university presidents come from academia.

In addition, the study shows that the number of university presidents that come from outside of higher education decreased from 20 percent in 2011 to 15 percent in 2016.

Behling’s comments come after language was added into Wisconsin’s proposed state budget which bars the Board of Regents from creating a rule that keeps non-academics from being considered for leadership positions such as chancellors, vice chancellor or UW System president. However, UW-Madison has restrictive policies of its own, which state that the chancellor, provost and certain vice chancellors need to be tenured faculty.

Not everyone agrees with Behling’s effort.

PROFS, a non-profit advocacy organization consisting of UW-Madison faculty and staff, pushed back on social media following Behling’s comments. Jack O’Meara, a lobbyist for PROFS, said someone who had a background in higher education was the most qualified to be in charge of an institution of higher education because they understand it.

“It doesn’t make sense to have somebody who has never worked in higher ed come in to try to run the organization, just as a major company wouldn’t bring in a professor to come in and run the company,” O’Meara said. “They would want somebody who understands how that company works and can effectively lead the organization.”

In late June, the leadership at PROFS sent a letter to Joint Finance Committee Co-Chairs Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, asking them to remove the proposed non-fiscal policy for the hiring qualifications for the UW President and chancellors.

PROFS expressed their frustration, saying that there was no advance notice nor a public hearing on the language. In addition, no legislator “publicly took credit for it.”

“Presumably, they’re [the legislator is] not that proud of it,” O’Meara said. “If they thought of it, they would put their name on it—take credit for it. It came up that day. We didn’t know anything about it. We had been meeting with members of JFC leadership and nobody told us that this was something that was important to them. So it’s a big surprise and the leaders of JFC—I have publicly heard them say that they do not want non-fiscal policy in the budget and this is clearly non-fiscal policy.”

This was reflected in PROFS’ letter, which alleges a lack of transparency.

“Although PROFS had been meeting with members of the committee as well as legislative leadership, this proposal was never mentioned,” the letter stated. “In addition to the lack of transparency or opportunity for constituent input, this is also inconsistent with the committee leadership’s expressed desire that non-fiscal policy be removed from the budget.”

PROFS has not received correspondence from the JFC since issuing the letter, but the group will continue to talk to legislators and staff and, if necessary, encourage Gov. Scott Walker to use his veto power to remove the provision, O’Meara said. 

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