Committee wants low-key talks on tenure

by Lynne Kozarek

At its May 2 meeting, the Faculty Consultative Committee began to bridge a gap between the Board of Regents and the professors.
The committee, which represents faculty interests to the administration, proposed informal meetings with the regents to negotiate tenure reforms and express concerns about academic freedom at the University. Many faculty members are concerned that the effort to rewrite the tenure code, which ensures academic freedom by guaranteeing professors economic security, could decrease academic freedom.
The tenure working group, a subcommittee of the Senate Committee for Faculty Affairs, has proposed several changes to the code that many professors find controversial, including replacing the existing salary structure with an incentive-based system and increasing the length of time it takes professors to get tenure — from six years to as many as nine.
The tenure working group offered the proposals at the behest of the administration, which has repeatedly cited the need for greater fiscal flexibility in the face of declining state funding for the University.
The goal of meetings with the regents would be to educate the regents on tenure issues raised by the faculty, said Roberta Humphreys, an astronomy professor and a member of the consultative committee. Humphreys said she believes the meetings would be a very positive action if held informally over dessert or coffee.
“The University is more than just classrooms and labs,” Humphreys said, “and tenure is something more than the dollar signs on a piece of paper.”
Still, there have been a number of questions concerning the proposed meetings, Humphreys said, and both the regents and the committee members have some wrinkles to smooth out before the meetings actually take place.
Committee member Victor Bloomfield agreed that the meetings would be a step in the right direction.
“We would educate the regents so they would better understand where the faculty is coming from,” he said. He added that any meetings would most likely be private and off the record.
“We would like to avoid the pressure of people looking over our shoulders,” Bloomfield said.
Consultative Committee Vice Chairwoman Virginia Gray, who is coordinating the meetings, said she believed the talks would educate the regents about other universities’ efforts to redesign their tenure codes. Several states, including Arizona, Florida and South Carolina, have begun to review the tenure codes within their university systems.
Regent Executive Director Steven Bosaker said the board has received invitations to meetings, but the idea is as yet undeveloped.
“The board feels that on issues of great importance — such as tenure — the more communication the better,” Bosaker said.
Members of the board could not be reached for comment.