Carlson enters tenure debate

by Brian Bakst

Gov. Arne Carlson announced Wednesday that he has a plan to jump-start tenure discussions between the Board of Regents and University faculty members.
Carlson’s office has begun forming a three-member panel to discuss issues of contention between the faculty and regents. Carlson’s plan marks the second time in the past few months in which the governor has tried to intimately involve himself in University issues. In July, Carlson was unsuccessful in getting the University to reimburse surgeon John Najarian for legal fees stemming from a federal felony case and reinstate him to a faculty position.
Carlson’s panel would undergo a 60-day fact-finding period that would consist of getting input from the Faculty Senate and regents.
A final analysis would be completed by March “in order to facilitate the transition process for a new president,” according to the statement.
“It is my sincere hope that we can remove some of the acrimony in the debate at the University by establishing this panel,” Carlson said.
Wayne Simoneau, the state’s commissioner of Employee Relations, said he was asked Monday to appoint the committee, but Carlson had been considering the panel for a month.
The idea of involving another party in the tenure debate received mixed reviews from the faculty, administrators and regents. A spokesperson from Carlson’s office said the governor did not consult the University before the announcement.
But Regent Patricia Spence said something must be done to restart discussions.
“We seem to be at quite an impasse, and its very difficult to find a way to move forward, so maybe this is one solution,” she said.
Tenure negotiations were halted in September after the University Faculty Alliance filed enough union cards with the state Bureau of Mediation Services to freeze employment conditions for most of the Twin Cities faculty members. Some at the University, however, are uncertain about the legality of the arrangement.
Mario Bognanno, chief of staff to University President Nils Hasselmo, said discussions would have to include the faculty alliance, if it chose to participate because it filed the petition for a cease-and-desist order. He added that the Faculty Senate may choose to be excluded from discussion of union issues because the Faculty Consultative Committee took a position of neutrality.
Mark Rotenberg, attorney for the University, said the governor’s proposal poses many labor and legal questions. For example, he said, “What function can that panel usefully perform while under the status quo?”
Rotenberg added that the governor has no direct constitutional authority over the University so the regents are not required to participate in the discussion process.
FCC Chairwoman Virginia Gray said she is cautious because she is not certain about the governor’s intentions. “If it’s just recommendations, we already have two sets,” she said. “How many more do we need?”
Although the regents and faculty members will have to determine if they want to participate in the panel-controlled discussions, Hasselmo’s administration welcomes the intervention.
“We welcome any kind of constructive and appropriate efforts to resolve the issue,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Marvin Marshak, who spoke on behalf of the University president. Hasselmo was out of the state Wednesday.