There was no champagne or party favors, and the Board of Regents didn’t have to wait until midnight for their new year to begin.
The regent meetings last week marked the beginning of the University’s 1996-97 fiscal year. But many controversial issues regents faced during the last fiscal year will be hard to forget.
The board’s actions on issues such as tenure and General College were in the limelight. It also acted on less controversial issues such as student housing.
Regent William R. Peterson said the issues brought before the board this year were some of the most important he has faced since being elected in 1993.
The tenure debate
Controversy about proposed tenure code changes heightened last fall, and some issues are still unresolved. In October, regents approved an amendment to the tenure code that limits the amount of time it takes to fire tenured professors. In the past, terminating tenured professors often took years.
The amendment proved to be the beginning of a debate that brought national attention to the University. The next step came in January when regents passed a resolution requesting that University President Nils Hasselmo’s office look into the tenure code.
The request came after tenure in the Academic Health Center became the subject of controversy, Hasselmo said. The controversy began when the health center found its clinical private practice revenues were dwindling. Clinical income funds the salary of tenured faculty members at the health center.
Since then, faculty members from all over the University have debated the consequences and benefits of a revised tenure code. Some say tenure changes, which could put academic freedom and faculty salaries in question, will hurt recruitment and retention of academics.
But others say changes are necessary to ensure tenure is not used as a shield for substandard faculty performance.
In June, regents heard the Faculty Senate’s proposals for tenure code changes. All tenure changes must be approved by the Faculty Senate.
The Faculty Senate’s proposal would allow colleges or departments to institute a longer pre-tenure period. The proposal would allow for reductions in faculty salaries or the termination of faculty members if they receive a series of poor post-tenure reviews.
Regents deferred action on tenure until later this fall. Some fear this will open the debate to outside political intervention.
Earlier this month, state officials wrote letters to regents that said the Faculty Senate’s proposal is not enough. The letters informed regents that more extensive changes may be necessary for the release of a $6.6 million appropriation tied to tenure code changes.
But Board of Regents Chairman Thomas Reagan said Friday he expects the money to be forthcoming.
Review of tenure was slightly overshadowed in April by another initiative. Hasselmo and Provost for Arts, Sciences and Engineering W. Phillips Shively announced plans to close General College. The pair cited low graduation rates and a high cost per student as reasons to close the 64-year-old college.
Regents did not embrace Hasselmo’s plan and voted to retain the college.
In April, Regent Hyon Kim said efforts should be made to restructure the college instead of close it. She said General College plays an important role in fulfilling diversity goals in the University 2000 framework.
“I wish the administration would take more of a look at how we can enhance the diversity goal rather than just tear General College down,” Kim said.
Hasselmo said during his June media briefing that the administration’s new focus is to make plans for changing General College to make it more efficient. He said the University needs to identify “who are the students and how do we serve them?”
Hasselmo said he asked Nancy Barcelo, associate vice president for Minority Affairs and Diversity, to evaluate possible changes in the college as well as other University-wide minority education issues.
Last fall, regents approved a proposal to build $50 million worth of student housing on campus, which would help reach the U2000 goal of housing more students on campus to encourage University community.
Three new, apartment-style housing complexes, which should be completed in three years, will be offered to upperclassmen and graduate students. But the apartments would also help alleviate overcrowding that left some students living in dormitory study rooms and a hotel early last fall.
Peterson said he voted for the housing proposal because some parents statewide told him they were concerned about sending their children to a university without adequate housing. The additional housing would be an extra recruiting tool, he said. “The parents feel a lot more comfortable.”
One of the three new housing complexes is under construction near Sanford Hall. Construction of the other two apartment-style buildings will begin as sites for them become available.