Keffeler’s departure won’t resolve debate

In many ways, Regent Jean Keffeler should be held responsible for changing the tone of the tenure debate and straining faculty/regent relations. Her advocacy of the layoff authority inherent in the Morris plan dramatically changed the nature of the discussion. As the most visible and vocal regent, she was an obvious target for blame in the current deadlock. Keffeler’s business-minded approach to University reforms didn’t mesh well with academia. But although Keffeler’s resignation from the Board of Regents last Thursday is seen by some as a temporary peace offering to the faculty, it moves the University no closer to a resolution of the problems with tenure that have plagued it for more than a year.
Keffeler served seven years on the board, including two as its chairwoman. In that time she gained a reputation for outspokenness in tackling sensitive issues, such as preventing the administration-backed plan to close General College, and clashing with University President Nils Hasselmo over the specifics behind his U2000 restructuring plan. She became the focal point of the faculty’s ire during the summer because of her highly-publicized role in the creation of the Morris plan for tenure reform, and now she has become the scapegoat for its consequences.
Keffeler collaborated with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Hogan and Hartson, which drafted a response to the proposed changes to the tenure code passed by the Faculty Senate last spring. When the details of the plan were revealed in a Sept. 5 regents’ meeting at the Morris campus, it was apparent that the new proposal represented a serious threat to academic freedom, base pay, peer involvement in post-tenure review and the authority of the Faculty Judicial Committee. The ensuing shock and dismay of many faculty members led directly to the current push toward unionization.
As the scope of the crisis became apparent, Keffeler softened her position, then reversed it completely. When the faculty responded to the Morris plan by filing for collective bargaining, she publicly called for an expanded discussion including state leaders outside the University. In October she called for the plan that she had helped create to be taken off the table altogether.Despite her reversal, Keffeler was always at the forefront of the tenure debate. The remaining 11 regents are divided on the issue and entrenched in opposing factions. Keffeler was clearly frustrated not only with the state of affairs at the University, but also with Board of Regents dynamics. Her resignation can be seen as a further attempt to reconcile campus tensions, but the fundamental problems with tenure remain and the discussion she led is still stuck in a standoff.
Her voice may have been prominent in the media, but Keffeler’s role as a leader on the board was in rapid decline in recent months. She was seen by many faculty members as the root problem of the tenure impasse. Aside from a brief diffusion of anger, her resignation is essentially meaningless. The regents’ plans for tenure reform and the subsequent union drive are now following momentum of their own and will stumble toward resolution with or without this symbolic gesture.