Survey says faculty worried about future

Jim Martyka

As University faculty members and the Board of Regents continue to take opposite stands on the issue of tenure, a survey conducted by the American Association of University Professors shows that tension between the two groups might have existed before the regents released their controversial proposals for tenure reform.
The results of the survey, which was distributed during the summer, show that many faculty members from all University campuses feel that the University will not be among the major public research universities in the future. It also shows that a large majority of the faculty feel the regents have not been doing an adequate job over the past few years.
The survey was sent to all University faculty members and 1,049 of them responded. Of this number, 91 percent were from the Twin Cities campus.
Statistics show that over half of the total sample are either “not very confident” or “not at all confident” that the University will be among the major public research universities in the 21st century. Results also show that 77 percent feel that the regents have displayed “poor” or “very poor” leadership in the past few years.
Economics professor Craig Swan was one of several professors responsible for conducting the survey. “There were a number of things going on that had dramatic impact on the University and we wanted to show how the faculty viewed things,” he said.
Swan said he was not at all surprised at the results of the survey and that he feels the two responses are directly related. If the tenuous relationship between faculty and the regents that has existed over the last year continues, Swan said, “I think it is quite understandable that people would not be confident in the future of the University.”
When shown the survey results at the regents meeting early this month, Regents Chairman Tom Reagan said he was surprised the number of unhappy faculty wasn’t higher. “When you are going through change, there is a lot of pain,” he said.
But Professor of Geology and Geophysics V. Rama Murthy said that while he expected a reaction, he was quite surprised to see numbers this high. “Relationships between the two seemed to be going smoothly over the summer,” he said. “It was a shock to see this many faculty members unhappy.”
Murthy, who is the president of the professors association’s Twin Cities chapter, said the results of the survey show that one of the regents’ reasons for wanting to revise the tenure code might not be valid.
“Over the summer, regents made statements implying that the tenure code imposes a lack of flexibility for reshaping the University,” he said. “The data gathered in this survey showed this statement is untrue.”
Murthy explained that one of the key pieces of data from the survey is the fact that almost 37 percent of faculty members said they intend to retire in the next 10 years.
“This shows enormous potential for turnover,” he said. “With a good, strong academic plan, the University can continue to use these vacancies to bring in quality people, therefore making it very flexible.”
Murthy included these findings in a letter he sent to the regents to inform them of the faculty perception of their performance and of the future of the University. Murthy received no response from Reagan or the other regents.
“We were simply trying to show them how they were being perceived, but they didn’t pay any attention to it,” he said.
There is, however, an Oct. 10 meeting scheduled with the Faculty, Staff, and Student Affairs Committee, which Regent Jean Keffeler chairs, and members of the professors association, including Murthy.