Regents’ tactics change; goals remain same

By Elizabeth

The new tenure code adopted on Nov. 7 for the Law School by the Board of Regents — “Sullivan II” — contains many admirable principles. The preamble states: “The people of Minnesota are best served when faculty are free to teach, conduct research and provide service without fear of reprisal and to pursue those activities with regard for long-term benefits to society rather than short-term rewards.”
Section one — “Academic Freedom” — then affirms: “The regents of the University of Minnesota reaffirm the principles of academic freedom and responsibility. These are rooted in the belief that the mind is ennobled by the pursuit of understanding and the search for truth and the state well-served when instruction is available to all at an institution dedicated to the advancement of learning. These principles are also refreshed by the recollection that there is commune vinculum omnibus artibus — a common bond through all the arts. Academic freedom is the freedom to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research and creative expression and to speak and write as a public citizen without institutional discipline or restraint.”
The secret meetings and actions of the regents over the last few months plainly demonstrate that their goal is not to enhance academic freedom, but to undermine it by turning faculty into at-will employees who can be fired for any reason or for no reason at all. True, “Sullivan II” seems relatively innocuous, but Dean Thomas Sullivan, in his first appearance before the regents, on Oct. 11, had urged them to get past the present impasse. That is all his proposal is intended to do.
We need to remember that University President Nils Hasselmo had used similar language. Moreover, the regents have made it clear that “Sullivan II” is not the final word. Regent Jean Keffeler said this code “specifically and explicitly avoids serious issues that as regents we agreed must be addressed.” And when asked if other changes to the tenure code were possible, Regent Thomas Reagan stated, “There’s no guarantee in life; there’s no guarantee for anything” (see Nov. 8 Daily article, “Regents pass tenure plan”).
Here are the facts:
1) Last spring, after considerable pressure by the administration and administration-oriented faculty leaders, the Faculty Senate sent the regents a proposal on revisions to the tenure code that many faculty believe went too far in the direction of compromise.
2) The regents ignored this proposal.
3) The regents presented the faculty with a tenure code devised by their own lawyers (the “Morris” code) that provided for termination of faculty who lacked “a proper attitude of industry and cooperation.” They informed faculty that they intended to vote on this code in early October. This occurred in early September. The Faculty Senate cannot legally meet until mid-September, when faculty on a nine-month schedule officially return to their academic duties.
4) Before the regents could meet in October, more than 30 percent of the faculty signed cards indicating that they wanted an election to consider collective bargaining. This triggered a cease-and-desist order forbidding further action by the regents.
5) At the close of the business day on Nov. 6, the state Bureau of Mediation Services, in a move that many felt to be a response to political pressures, determined that 10.2 signatures were needed for the Law School to be subject to the cease and desist order: Only 10 signatures had been obtained. No hearing was granted to dispute this questionable count. No time was given the faculty to collect another signature.
6) The very next morning, at 9 a.m. on Nov. 7, the regents met under the legal guise of an emergency meeting and passed “Sullivan II”.
7) The regents did not include a two-year moratorium on changes to the tenure code as Hasselmo requested.
8) An election will probably be held in December or January for collective bargaining. If collective bargaining is not approved at this time, labor laws prohibit faculty from again attempting to unionize for at least one year.
These facts admit only one interpretation. The regents do not believe in shared governance. They want to eliminate tenure and academic freedom and instead turn faculty into at-will employees. These goals are crudely stated in the proposed “Morris” tenure code. When threatened with collective action by faculty, the regents’ goals remained the same, but their tactics changed. They now needed to convince the faculty that they had changed their minds so that collective action was no longer needed. Therefore, they looked for, and at last found, a loophole that allowed them to appear to be in favor of the much milder “Sullivan II” code. They now hope this gesture will be enough to defeat collective bargaining in the elections. If collective bargaining is defeated, as they hope, the regents then fully intend to reopen the tenure issue. This time there will be no possibility of legal hindrance. The “Morris” code or something worse will rule.
The facts speak for themselves. The regents do not have the best interests of the University — faculty, students, and staff — at heart. They are not committed to academic freedom and shared governance, or honest and open discussion of important issues that affect us all. They are not to be trusted. They have chosen to play the role of dictators instead of that of officers in a democracy who govern by consent of the governed.
In these unfortunate circumstances, the only way to force them to be true regents –governors whose duty it is to work for the long-term good of the University — is for faculty to acquire the legal rights afforded by collective bargaining.
If we join together we can work to create a democratic professional organization dedicated to academic freedom and shared governance. If we reject collective action we will be forced to take, without legal recourse, whatever the regents of the moment may happen to deal out.
Elizabeth Belfiore is a professor in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies.