Regents: Tenure code needs further revision

Brian Bakst

Faculty members, administrators and the Board of Regents agreed Friday that much progress has been made in the tenure review process.
But the groups also recognized that revisions to the tenure code must be fine-tuned before the regents vote on them in July.
After several months of debate, regents had a chance Friday to review proposals for changing tenure that could lead to more effective peer reviews, longer probationary periods and more short-term teaching appointments.
University President Nils Hasselmo endorsed the proposal — which was created by the Faculty Senate — and urged regents not to let the tenure issue linger. “The sooner we can come to grips, the better,” Hasselmo said.
The Faculty Senate must approve minor suggestions in wording and clarification made by Hasselmo in the next month. Should the senate not agree to Hasselmo’s changes by the July regents meeting, approval of changes could be delayed until September.
Hasselmo added that the tenure debate is moving toward substantive issues and away from symbolic issues. “Some people think if you abolish tenure you will do away with all the ills of higher education,” Hasselmo said. “You have others who think (tenure) changes are utter destruction.”
Regents wanted to review possible tenure code changes to allow for more flexibility, accountability, responsibility and clarity in tenure-related decisions. In the past, decisions about firing faculty members have been very time-consuming and under the constant threat of lawsuits.
Under the faculty proposal, the majority of the tenure code remains unchanged. The language of the code has been revised and a preamble has been added to make it more clear to the public.
Changes include a proposed amendment to modify peer reviews for tenured faculty members who are found to be performing below department expectations. The amendment would allow for possible salary reductions or terminations as a result of poor reviews.
Another provision in the senate’s proposal allows colleges or departments to extend the period before professors get tenure to a maximum of nine years. Currently, a faculty member is put on a six-year tenure track. Regent Wendell Anderson said the Faculty Senate should inform the public that this established pre-tenure process is already rigorous.
The policy also offers more flexibility in hiring decisions. Term appointments allow administrators to hire faculty members for a specific period of time without leading to tenured positions. In the past, the University and some non-tenure-track faculty members have had differences concerning definitions of term appointments, Hasselmo said. At times these differences have left the University open for potential of lawsuits, he added.
Term appointments would be more clearly defined to specify when they could be made and discontinued. This may lead to a decrease in the percentage of tenured faculty members. Currently, more than 80 percent of the University’s faculty are tenured.
Hasselmo said concern for the retainment of tenured faculty members should be extended to include non-tenured faculty. He noted that in the past six years more than 902 faculty members left the University and only 668 were hired.
The regents’ request for changes in the code has garnered state and national attention. In April, the University of California-Berkeley Academic Senate passed a resolution condemning the University for considering changes.
The Minnesota Legislature tied a special $8.6 million appropriation for the Academic Health Center to changes in its tenure code. State Rep. Becky Kelso, DFL-Shakopee, said because the appropriation came in the middle of a non-budget year, the Legislature had the right to tie the funds to health center tenure changes.
But the Faculty Senate didn’t want to make unit-based tenure changes by drafting a policy only directed at the health center. Its proposal covers all University faculty members.
Kelso said the faculty proposal meets the state’s request. This means the special appropriation for the health center would be granted.
But Kelso said she would have liked to see the proposal go further. “It’s very questionable whether the proposal will give the regents more flexibility,” she said.
Kelso said tenure is only one of the many issues the University needs to address. In order for the University to prevent itself from becoming a mediocre institution, drastic measures and fund reallocations are needed, she said.
“My hope is that regents will do what needs to be done for what I feel is a dire financial situation.”