Faculty Senate OKs tenure plan

by Jennifer Niemela

University faculty and administrators could bury the hatchet within a week now that the faculty senate overwhelmingly approved a compromise tenure code Thursday. The code is expected to get Board of Regents approval at its June meeting next week.
The compromise code passed during a voice-vote with only four nays. It was hailed as a compromise between various proposals regents and faculty members brought forth over the past year.
The model currently on the table code is a version of the Sullivan II code, a compromise between regent and faculty stipulations that was implemented for the Morris Campus and the Law School in November.
This tenure code, which is advocated by University President Nils Hasselmo and Board of Regents Chairman Tom Reagan, differs from the previously proposed codes in its less controversial language regarding faculty conduct and the safeguards it provides faculty, regarding their salaries. For example, the regents insisted on having the option of implementing college-wide faculty pay cuts, but the faculty inserted a clause saying the proposed cuts should be voted on in an appropriate college assembly rather than the University-wide Faculty Senate.
“I’m very happy and comfortable (with the proposed code),” said Faculty Consultative Committee Chairwoman Virginia Gray.
The code provides what advocates call “built-in protections” against pay-cuts, layoffs and post-tenure review. The board’s original proposal included controversial clauses allowing faculty layoffs and pay cuts.
“It’s not a perfect code; things could have been done better,” said senator and law professor Fred L. Morrison, who authored most of the amendments the senate voted on. “But we’ve reached an acceptable code that will protect our academic rights and freedoms.”
Faculty and administrators have been embroiled in the controversy since January 1996, over the board’s attempts to implement controversial changes to the code. Tenure, which ensures that qualified professors won’t lose their jobs or receive pay cuts because of the nature of their research, is considered crucial to maintaining academic freedom and quality.
Opponents counter that such wide-reaching privilege allows indefinite employment for incompetent faculty who don’t maintain teaching and research quality.
The controversy reached its head in February when the faculty narrowly rejected unionization. The battle attracted national attention. Some University leaders were concerned it might have affected the school’s reputation as a world-class institution.
“This is a wonderful outcome of an arduous process,” said University President Nils Hasselmo.
While most faculty members were relieved with the prospect of being finished with the controversy, many senators warned that the code wouldn’t protect them from future controversies between administration and faculty.
“This may be the battle won, but the war is not over,” said plant biology professor Eville Gorham. “Although the immediate threat to tenure may be passing, we must remain vigilant.”
President of American Association of University Professors Twin Cities Chapter V. Rama Murthy said that although he’s delighted with the passing of the tenure code, good communication between the faculty and the administration will be necessary to resolve future issues.
“It’s enough protection for now,” Murthy said. “But if we don’t build trust between the administration and the faculty, no code will protect us from future issues.”
However, not everyone joined in the celebrations. University Faculty Alliance Chairman Tom Walsh said he opposes the code because he believes it was written surreptitiously by the administration.
“This code was written by the administration to prevent collective bargaining,” said Walsh, a union advocate. “The board got in big trouble because they never realized the public wasn’t willing to support their draconian attacks on tenure. They learned their lesson: To not do it all at once.”