Faculty approve tenure change

Brian Bakst

A new Universitywide, post-tenure peer review system could result in faculty pay reductions or termination under an amendment passed Thursday by the University Faculty Senate.
Despite the amendment’s passage, faculty members still debate what effect tying pay to peer reviews could have on recruitment and retention of good faculty.
Review of the tenure process at the University began last fall at the request of the Board of Regents. Several regents and administrators believe the code must be revised to allow for performance reviews, layoffs and other exceptions.
The Legislature also tied changes in the tenure code to an $8.6 million appropriation for the Academic Health Center.
But some faculty members also saw the need for a change. Political science professor and College of Liberal Arts dean candidate Edwin Fogelman said, “Many faculty feel that some such post-tenure review process is useful and necessary.”
Although peer reviews have previously existed in certain departments, the post-tenure reviews have never before allowed for the possibility of salary reductions or termination.
Under the measure, the reviews would identify faculty members who are performing below department expectations in the areas of teaching, scholarly research and outreach. A peer review committee, composed of each department head and elected members of the department of the faculty member in question, would offer suggestions for improvement.
Should the faculty member fail to improve within one year, the case would be referred to a special peer review board. This board would consist of five tenured faculty members of equal or higher rank. One would be appointed by the faculty member under review. The panel would then submit a report to the dean of that member’s college and suggest dismissal or further action.
The panel may suggest limited reductions to the faculty member’s base salary.
This stipulation sparked extensive debate Thursday among senate delegates. But a motion to strike the salary-reduction clause from Thursday’s amendment failed by a 28-to-74 vote.
The current tenure policy states that salary reductions may only come when the University is in a state of fiscal emergency. And termination hearings must be initiated by a dean or an academic administrator.
Physiology professor Richard Purple said the new provision would hurt recruitment of new faculty members.
“Every (faculty) candidate who submits a vitae asks us about this issue,” Purple said. “If you don’t have tenure in your institution, you will not be a major institution in this country.”
Law School professor Richard Morris said the public holds a false perception that tenure is a systematic flaw that “slackers” use to hide behind. He said tenure reforms should be supportive and not vindictive.
“Consider what can be done concerning their performance,” Morris said of the small percentage of faculty deemed substandard. “It seems absolutely clear that cutting their salary will not make them productive.”
Others said those who willfully neglect their duties should be punished. Political Science professor Samuel Krislov said faculty members who are not fulfilling department goals are giving tenure a bad name.
“I don’t care whether it is punitive or not. I think it’s fair,” Krislov added.
Tenure Subcommittee member Fred Morrison reassured faculty members that the peer review system would be filled with checks and balances. Should the special peer review panel and the dean recommend punishment, the faculty member would be able to appeal the decision to the Senate Judicial Committee. The ultimate decision would lie with the University’s president.
Morrison and three other senate members will present the amendment to the Board of Regents during their meetings Thursday and Friday.