Regents’ hasty action sets a bad precedent

In their attempt to expedite a resolution to the impasse over tenure reform, the Board of Regents yesterday exploited a technicality to pass a revised tenure code for the Law School. The new code, referred to by the regents as “the compromise proposal” is a vast improvement over the Morris plan and does not contain the highly contested clause giving layoff authority to the board. But in passing the policy in an emergency meeting and under questionable circumstances, the regents have once again seriously misstepped in this ongoing crisis.
The board was able to act because the Bureau of Mediation Services nullified on Wednesday the cease-and-desist order covering the Law School. To qualify for protection under a state labor law, 30 percent of the professors in the Law school needed to file union cards. They fell short by one fifth of a card. The board leapt on this opportunity to immediately pass the new code.
Before the vote, Regent Jean Keffeler, whose resignation from the board is effective Dec. 1, voiced a series of reservations about the regents’ swift and decisive action. “I am concerned about our adopting this code in an atmosphere of crisis, the atmosphere of an emergency meeting,” she said. “I am concerned that the vote is available to us on a technicality.” Keffeler stressed that because of the immediacy of the proceedings, it was especially important to hear a faculty perspective. Her repeated requests that the board hear from Faculty Consultative Committee Chairwoman Virginia Gray were denied by University President Nils Hasselmo.
Keffeler was right in her apprehensions. The regents’ frantic scramble to push through the Law School tenure code smacks of authoritarianism and certainly undermines what little trust the faculty and campus community still have in the board. The most telling moment of the meeting came in the middle of Keffeler’s remarks. “(The faculty) have expressed concerns that the regents may take action that the faculty oppose through some clever technicality in the code,” she said. “Will voting on a tenure code today confirm that fear? Will it add to that atmosphere of distrust?” In response to that rhetorical question, the bulk of the faculty members in the audience said in unison, “Yes.”
The negative image of the regents is further exacerbated by their lack of response to the greatest opportunity to date to include faculty in the tenure discussion. On Wednesday, members of the American Association of University Professors and the University Faculty Alliance sent the regents a letter offering to waive the cease-and-desist order covering the entire faculty if the regents would engage the faculty in a discussion of possible tenure code compromises. Instead of considering the offer, the board rushed to get the Law School code on the books.
But the problem with yesterday’s action was not in the tenure code it passed, it was the way it was passed. The board set a precedent of dealing with tenure unit by unit. Rather than work toward a broad compromise, they chose to divide and conquer. The Board of Regents’ hasty and poorly reasoned method of ending the tenure debate in the Law School will, by adding to the atmosphere of distrust, prolong the battle that lies ahead for the rest of the University.