Tenure review process will change in 1998

by Nancy Ngo

University history professor Sara Evans will prepare for her performance review this spring the same way she has for the past 22 years.
She will draw up a list which includes the courses she’s taught, the materials she’s published and the outreach efforts she’s completed. But this time the process takes on extra significance because next year her comfortable routine could change.
The first tangible changes of the new tenure code will take effect next year in the form of stepped-up performance appraisals. Departments University-wide are revising their policies and performance evaluations.
It is the culmination of several years of often contentious haggling over the tenure code. The Board of Regents and faculty members engaged in a highly publicized standoff over the strength of tenure at the University, reaching accord last June. Since then, faculty committees have been tweaking the process.
The biggest challenge for some colleges and departments is how to implement the new steps.
“In some colleges a review process hasn’t been the ordinary method of review, and this will be more complicated to put into effect,” said Kent Bales, chairman of the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs.
However, the changes are minimal for colleges such as the Institute of Technology and the College of Liberal Arts, which already have annual reviews for faculty members to determine salary compensation and increases.
K.S.P. Kumar, IT associate dean for academic affairs, said explicit procedures will give department heads more direction so they can be consistent in their actions.
“Before it was very hazy,” Kumar said. “Now there are very definite steps.”
The revised code gives instructions on how department heads should follow up on faculty members who aren’t up to par with expectations outlined by their peers.
Tenured professors not doing satisfactory work could be subject to a special peer review session where colleagues give advice on how to improve performance.
“That’s what I see as a potentially positive contribution of a policy like this,” Evans said. “You would have intervention so that they could get back on track.”
If a professor’s work doesn’t improve, it could result in a salary reduction of up to 10 percent and, in extreme cases, termination.
“It’s only the problem cases that this review adds something new to,” said Evans, who is also the vice president of the Twin Cities chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
Some faculty members are concerned that working on peer committees will result in less time for writing and research. “We want to make sure that it does not become a burdensome administrative task, that it takes away from our research responsibilities,” said Carolyn Williams, associate professor in epidemiology and president of the Twin Cities AAUP.
Williams said although the revisions safeguard academic freedom, the new process must be watched carefully.
“The AAUP will be vigilant that this process will not be used to harm faculty members’ academic freedom,” she said.