Tenure debate createslose-lose situation

In the regents’ proposed changes to the Faculty Tenure Code and the faculty’s subsequent move toward unionization, the University faces a no-win situation. Both the Board of Regents’ proposal and the possibility of unionization hold grave and lasting consequences for the University and the state of Minnesota.The tenure debate is by no means new. But while academic freedom, compensation and post-tenure review are perennial issues, more is at stake here than base pay and job security. The regents’ proposal, unveiled Sept. 5, threatens nearly all authority faculty members have for self-governance and gives the regents power to cut pay and punish or terminate professors at will.
The proposed changes are ridiculously out of line with professional norms. If the changes are adopted, a mass exodus of our most valued professors is certain. In addition to this staggering intellectual loss to the University community, departing professors would take with them hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants. Furthermore, those faculty members who remain would be forced to keep their heads down by a vague and ominous tenure code. Their research, teaching and community service would suffer, and the University would fail to live up to any of these three tenets of its land-grant mission.
Naturally, faculty members are shell-shocked. They entered into the tenure code review process in good faith and presented a thoughtful and progressive set of changes in their own proposal last spring. So when the regents’ revisions were made public this month, faculty members had little recourse but to file union cards and trigger a state labor law that freezes employment conditions until a union vote takes place.
But though collective bargaining would likely be successful in blocking the regents, in the long run it could do nearly as much damage. Just as the proposed tenure code changes are outside of professional standards, so too is unionization. Of the 34 top research schools in the nation, the group to which the University compares itself, not one is unionized. It would be very difficult to attract top notch professors to a union school. Also, collective bargaining means a primarily adversarial labor-management relationship. For more than a century the University has relied on a cooperative system of governance. A union, once in place, is nearly impossible to remove, and its adversarial nature would far outlast the terms of today’s regents.
The face of higher education in America is changing. The same economic realities that force corporations to downsize apply to the University. But that doesn’t mean the University is a corporation and should operate under a corporate model of labor and management. Adjustments, many of them painful, need to be made — on which everyone agrees.
To remedy the current crisis, the board must take its proposed tenure revisions off the table and reconsider the faculty’s plan. The faculty members must, in turn, seriously look at the long-term perils of collective bargaining. If cooler heads don’t prevail, the integrity of this institution, which despite its manifold problems remains a great research university, will be effectively destroyed.