Indecision reigns at faculty meeting

Kelly Wittman

Two Faculty Senate committees debated but could not decide whether to take definitive action regarding two proposed plans for revisions to the Law School’s tenure code.
At a Board of Regents meeting last Friday, Regent Patricia Spence suggested revisions that would include allowing administrators to lay off faculty members, but that excluded a statement requiring professors to maintain “a proper attitude of industry and cooperation.”
Law School Dean Tom Sullivan’s proposal is seen as a compromise between faculty-led revisions and the regents’ changes. It does not include the layoff powers of the regents’ proposal and would allow faculty members to be disciplined for grave misconduct.
At a joint meeting of the senate’s Committee on Faculty Affairs and the tenure sub-committee Thursday, members spent most of the time discussing whether examining the two proposals violated not only Faculty Senate policy but also the law by creating unfair labor practices.
The University has been discussing reforming its tenure code since last fall. In June, the senate proposed a list of revisions to the Board of Regents. The regents then proposed their own set of revisions to the code at a meeting in September, changes that included the layoff provisions.
Faculty members countered the proposal by starting a union drive that resulted in a cease-and-desist order issued by the Bureau of Mediation Services in late September. The order bars the University from making any changes in the terms or conditions of employment of faculty members who are part of the bargaining unit until a union election is held.
Most recently, the Law School came under scrutiny because it is the only school not protected by a status quo order, thus allowing changes to its labor conditions.
Members of the committees did not end up discussing the merits of the actual Law School proposals Thursday and could not decide on just one motion in response to them but instead worked on two motions to be sent to the entire Faculty Senate when it meets next week.
One motion, proposed by Professor Josef Altholz, would encourage faculty members to not discuss the proposals at all because the tenure policy should apply to the entire University. The other, proposed by Professor Fred Morrison of the Law School, would respond to the proposals only because regents requested the senate to: renew the faculty commitment to a unified tenure code and the June faculty changes to the code; and dismiss regents’ proposals as damaging to academic freedom.
The cease-and-desist order became a main point of contention at the meeting. A letter from professors Tom Walsh, V. Rama Murthy and Paula Rabinowitz cautioned the senate that discussing the Law School proposals may violate the order, because it prohibits any discussion of changes to employment conditions.
They also said provisions of the recent proposals make it clear the regents intend to apply the proposed revisions not only to the Law School, but to the entire University, circumventing the order.
Professor Naomi Scheman agreed the group should not discuss the proposals because the senate had traditionally supported a unified tenure proposal.
Initially, the Academic Health Center alone was targeted for changes in its tenure code, because it lacked funds to pay all its tenured professors. However, the senate wanted a unified tenure code, Scheman said. Discussing tenure-reform proposals that would apply to just the Law School would be essentially the same situation, she said.
In addition, she said, discussing the Law School changes is a loophole that allows the regents to plan changes that would eventually apply to the whole University.
Faculty Affairs Committee Chairman Dan Feeney said he was concerned that discussing the proposals would violate senate policy. The senate has a policy of only looking at issues that affect the whole faculty, he said. The two proposed revisions to the tenure code can only apply to the Law School because of the order, therefore, the senate may not have jurisdiction since it is a unit-wide, not a University-wide issue, he said.
The senate will examine the two motions forwarded Thursday by the committees.