Law School is fair game

by Brian Bakst

With the table already crowded with four tenure proposals, Board of Regents Chairman Tom Reagan said Wednesday the board will pass a new proposal for the Law School faculty today.
The regents are able to pass the “compromise proposal” because the state’s Bureau of Mediation Services declared Wednesday that the Law School lacked the requisite number of union cards to halt tenure changes.
“I have every indication that this will pass — big time,” Reagan said of the proposal, which does not include extended layoff authority.
A special meeting was called for 9 a.m. today to vote on the proposal, which Reagan said combines proposals of the Faculty Senate, Law School Dean E. Thomas Sullivan and the Reagan-Spence proposal; the latter two were introduced last month.
The Faculty Senate plan, introduced in June, provides for extensive post-tenure peer review, but calls for reassignment of faculty when departments close. The Reagan-Spence proposal allows for layoffs, a point that has been the biggest issue of contention among regents, faculty and administrators. Sullivan’s proposal makes no mention of layoffs, but includes a process to temporarily cut professors’ salaries during financial crises.
In order to qualify for the state labor freeze, 30 percent of law professors had to submit union cards. Last week, 10 cards were turned over to the Bureau of Mediation Services, and an order was enacted. But the bureau determined Wednesday that 10.2 faculty members’ signatures were needed and revoked the order. At least 11 signatures were needed to uphold the bureau’s order.
University Faculty Alliance Co-Coordinator and Physics professor Tom Walsh said it was outrageous that the mediation services lifted the order over two-tenths of a signature. “I think this shows that the BMS is working with the regents to subvert the status quo order,” he said, adding that pressures to determine eligibility of union election voters in a timely manner might have contributed to the ruling.
Reagan said the plan, which he dubbed the “compromise proposal,” has been “developing over a period of time.” Reagan would not specify exactly how long the new proposal has been in the works.
Faculty Alliance Co-Coordinator and English professor Paula Rabinowitz was curious about the title. “Compromise with whom is the question,” she said, adding that the alliance offered to negotiate with regents on a couple of occasions only to be denied or ignored.
“We have been working with board members and working with the administration and others to see if we could come up with something that benefits this University, number one,” Reagan said. “This does, and that gets us to where all of us are trying to get.”
The compromise proposal has no mention of layoffs in cases of program or department closure. Instead, it relies on the suggestions put forth in the Sullivan proposal that calls for across-the-board pay cuts in times of financial despair.
University President Nils Hasselmo, who opposes extended layoff authority as outlined in previous regent proposals, called Wednesday’s developments “very positive.”
Part of the Law School tenure package Reagan will propose today calls for Hasselmo’s administration to support their claims that retiring professors will provide the University with enough flexibility. A report prepared last week by Hasselmo’s staff said that over the next 10 years about half of the University faculty will retire or leave the University.
Regent Patricia Spence, who has become one of the staunchest supporters of layoffs, has said she doesn’t think retirements provide enough flexibility.
Hasselmo’s staff will conduct a comprehensive study to pinpoint exactly where the retirements will occur. Then the new administration, which assumes control in July, will be directed by the regents to monitor developments.
Eventually, the new administration will report to the board on the effectiveness of relying on retirements for flexibility.
Reportedly, Spence and Hasselmo met last Thursday to discuss tenure. Hasselmo declined to comment on the extent of the discussions and what effect they had on the ongoing tenure debate. “I don’t want to speculate about the effect of one meeting or another,” Hasselmo said, adding he spoke to many regents on numerous occasions about tenure.
Reagan said University lawyers told him that passing a tenure proposal for the Law School today is within labor laws. “We’ve checked this very carefully with our legal counsel and they say that this can be done legally, so we feel very comfortable that we are not doing anything in violation of the status quo order,” he said.
University Faculty Alliance members said they will not take the regents’ actions lightly. “We can and probably will appeal,” Walsh said. “Also, we can and possibly will take them to court.”
Rabinowitz said the secrecy of the new proposal’s development is another reason not to trust the regents. “Who can trust these people?” Rabinowitz said.
She called Wednesday’s announcement an “indication of desperation.”
Members of other faculty groups were more interested in what the “compromise proposal” contained rather than how it was developed.
Faculty Consultative Committee Chairwoman Virginia Gray said if the proposal leans more toward the Faculty Senate and Sullivan versions, she will be pleased. More importantly, Gray said she hopes this tenure proposal will be an acceptable solution to the University’s tenure troubles. “I think (the regents) very much want to get it behind them,” she said. “And we certainly want to get it behind us.”
— Staff Reporter Jim Martyka contributed to this report.