UW regents OK changes for hiring leaders

MADISON — University of Wisconsin System regents adopted sweeping hiring policy changes Thursday that clear the way for non-academics to lead the state's colleges.

Under the plan, campuses can't block people who lack terminal degrees and tenure from serving as system president, chancellors or vice chancellors. The system must look to recruit applicants from the private sector as well.

System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said every campus has required chancellor and vice chancellor applicants to hold a terminal degree or tenure either through policy or practice. The state budget Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed last month prohibits the regents from adopting such policies; Thursday's changes bring the system into compliance with those budget provisions.

The regents adopted the changes on a voice vote during a meeting at UW-Stout. State schools superintendent Tony Evers cast the lone dissenting vote. Evers, a Democrat, is running against Walker in next year's elections.

"Academic preparation is important (for system leadership positions)," Evers told the regents ahead of the vote. "This is a solution looking for a problem. (But) I realize it's water over the dam. The Legislature and the governor decided this for us."

Other changes in the package include:

—Recruiting more private-sector candidates. A workgroup that developed the changes said in a memo to the regents that a university president's role is changing and a 2017 American Council on Education survey found 65 percent of chancellors or president said budget and management are their primary tasks, leading to fewer academics being interested in such jobs.

—Shrinking search committees from 17 members to 10.

—Releasing the names of two to three finalists, down from five. Regent Drew Petersen, who led the work group, said there's no need to publicize the names of people with only a 20 percent chance of winning the job when it could jeopardize their current jobs.

"We wanted to find ways to make our hiring process more attractive to candidates and streamline that process as much as possible," Petersen said.