Department-specific tenure guidelines to undergo revisions

A Faculty Senate committee wants new guidelines by next year for different departments finished by the end of the year.

by Tiffany Lukk

In an attempt to maintain a healthy balance of different types of faculty members at the University of Minnesota, the school’s Faculty Senate plans to create department-specific guidelines for tenure status.
A Faculty Senate committee hopes to have specific guidelines for each department completed by the end of the school year, and some school leaders say more tenured faculty members could prevent a loss of academic freedom.
According to school policy, 75 percent of faculty members are required to be either tenured or tenure-track, and 25 percent of that number is allowed to be non-tenure. Faculty members who are tenured are able to hold more sway in the University, said Faculty Consultative Committee Chair Colin Campbell.
Because some departments need different ratios of the various types of faculty members, leaders brought up creating a more specific policy at a senate committee meeting last month. 
The rule is part of a larger policy, which is intended to keep the balance between non-tenured and tenured faculty members, said Assistant Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Ole Gram.
Tenure helps faculty members go in various directions with their research and voice opinions without fear of termination, he said.
“When you have fewer and fewer tenured faculty members, that becomes a sort of an erosion of the tenure system and eventually could lead to an erosion of academic 
freedom,” he said. “Tenure is really about securing academic freedom for faculty to do their research, to build new areas of research and do that sort of unfettered from any kind of influence from administrators or even peers.”
But different departments have different needs, which the senate is trying to address.
Campbell said a lot of people want tenure but can’t get it due to the school’s financial restraints.
Despite the 25 percent policy, some departments that have technical needs are more likely to have more professors from the non-tenure category, College of Liberal Arts Dean John Coleman said.
He said he thinks the 25 percent policy was forward-thinking of the University.
“You can get into a situation of drift when you realize you’ve really changed the nature of the faculty pretty dramatically over time,” Coleman said. “This University thought ahead and put a policy in place to try to make sure that didn’t happen, and if there was going to be any significant changes in composition in the faculty, it came about through very specific plans through very specific departments.”
When departments exceed the maximum amount of professors in the non-tenure category, deans are required to provide a plan that gives reason as to why they have that many non-tenured professors.
At the faculty senate committee last month, members created a subcommittee to determine the potential new guidelines.
“We came up with a plan to do more research. … We’re going to look at the plans each college has, and we’ll work from there,” subcommittee member Leah Reinert said.