Tenure armisticemay be at hand

by Jim Martyka

After almost two years of pain and suffering at the University over tenure on the part of administrators, faculty members and the Board of Regents, the school may now be ready to begin a healing with the passing of a compromise tenure code.
University officials and faculty members have debated tenure since September when the regents unveiled tenure provisions that angered many faculty members. That anger stemmed from controversial language about how and when professors could be laid off.
The compromise tenure code, which has none of the earlier controversial language, will likely be passed by the Faculty Senate today and implemented University-wide by the regents at their meetings next week.
The passage and ratification of the code could put an end to the war-like tenure controversy, which created bad blood and mistrust at the University among faculty members, administrators and regents.
“We’ve uncovered some stuff in the past, but now we’ve dealt with it,” said University President Nils Hasselmo. “We have to move on.”
Officials say the code to be voted on today is a combination of the earlier compromise between faculty and regents that was passed for the Law School and the Morris campus and nine clarification and faculty safeguard amendments.
“We’ve produced a tenure code here that is balanced from the perspective of competing ideas,” said Chief of Staff Mario Bognanno. “It is true to the principles of academic freedom, due process and faculty governance.”
During the dispute, faculty members accused the regents of attempting to destroy these principles.
Faculty leader Sara Evans agrees that the compromise code keeps them. “We believe that it is an honorable resolution that protects our core values,” she said.
The regent-supported code from last fall spurred some professors to push for faculty unionization, which delayed tenure talks. However, during the drive, regents were able to implement a compromised tenure code for the Law School and the Morris campus dubbed “Sullivan II.”
After the University-wide faculty drive failed in February, the two sides began work on the code for the rest of the University.
The Committee of Eight
Evans, who is involved with both the Faculty Consultative Committee and the American Association of University Professors, is chair of the Committee of Eight, the faculty group who was empowered by faculty leaders to work with the regents and administrators on revising the code.
The committee was formed last year during the union drive in an effort to find a compromise code. It consists of four AAUP members and four committee chairs in the Faculty Senate. After the drive failed, the committee analyzed Sullivan II and offered some proposed changes for a University-wide tenure code.
The committee worked on the proposed changes with Hasselmo, Bognanno and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Marvin Marshak. Some regents also added their input to the changes, most notably Chair Tom Reagan and Patricia Spence.
Though work on the new code has been delayed because of scheduling and extensive work on some key changes, administrators and faculty agreed they were finally ready to introduce the code and hopefully put an end to the tenure issue.
“We improved it a little here and there so it’s better than what we had before,” said Reagan. “I think everybody feels that it’s ready.”
In the past two weeks, the Committee of Eight, AAUP leaders, Hasselmo and Reagan have all endorsed the new code.
The new tenure code
The main features of the proposal include eliminating the controversial language regarding layoff provisions and allowing faculty members a voice in post-tenure review, like Sullivan II does.
However, the new code includes several new amendments ranging from language clarifications to faculty safeguards.
One controversial safeguard area is college-wide faculty pay cuts. Regents and administrators wanted to leave the possibility of faculty pay cuts at the college level open in cases of financial emergency. In the current code and Sullivan II, the only way cuts can be administered is University-wide.
“We thought this was very severe,” Spence said. “And if problems were happening in one or two of the colleges, and we could do a temporary pay cut in those colleges to try and rebuild them, then that would be much more sensible than doing it University-wide.”
Evans said that the board’s stance concerned many faculty members. Faculty leaders concluded that if the regents needed to have this provision, the faculty needed a safeguard.
“The protection is that it has to be the faculty in that unit that makes the decision,” Evans said.
Regents and faculty said they hoped financial situations that could result in faculty pay cuts would never arise at the University. But some are worried at the potential harm it could do to a college.
“It is and will be a matter of trust, which is touchy now,” Evans said.
Another area that has been disputed heavily is post-tenure review. Faculty leaders are still concerned that provisions in the new code allow regents to participate in the post-tenure review process. However, the faculty has also built a safeguard saying that this should be done with faculty input.
Regents also wanted to maintain a provision that would allow the disciplining of faculty members for “acts of unprofessional conduct.” The old University tenure code called for a three-day suspension, which concerned faculty members.
“Faculty were uncomfortable with this,” said Fred Morrison, professor of law and Committee of Eight member. “So we felt it had to be taken out, which it was.”
Other changes from the Sullivan II proposal involve clarifying language in various sections. For example, in one section, faculty demanded the phrase “base pay” be changed to “recurring salary.”
Support and criticism
Administrators say the most important thing about the code is that everyone worked together to address both minor and major changes.
“This is not a perfect code by any means,” Marshak said. “But it is a compromise, and a way to move on.”
But faculty leaders, regents and administrators all agreed that this was far from a perfect solution.
“There are still some worries about how people will interpret or use the code in the future,” said V. Rama Murthy, president of the Twin Cities chapter of AAUP. “It may not be the best, but it is a workable thing.”
How the code could be interpreted is one concern several faculty have voiced. Some said they feel that there are certain sections, such as the post tenure review, that would allow regents to misuse the code.
“It isn’t a good code,” said physics professor Tom Walsh, co-founder of the University Faculty Alliance which organized the faculty union drive. “People may try to rationalize it, saying it’s not as bad as the old code, but that doesn’t make it good.”
Walsh’s sentiments were shared by other faculty members including one Committee of Eight member who chose not to support the code.
Bob Sonkowsky, professor of classics and AAUP member, said that while he helped write safeguards into the new code, he feels the regents still have too much say and that the code itself is very flexible.
“I couldn’t support it as a matter of conscience,” he said.
However, others said while the code might not be perfect, the time to pass it is now.
“The timing is momentous because it means we could resolve this before (President-designate) Mark Yudof arrives with his new administration,” Bognanno said.
Officials said this was a goal, mostly because they wanted to provide a clean slate for Yudof, who takes over the school’s presidency July 1 and also because they said there were other issues to be addressed.
Many involved in the controversy said they are eager to pass the new code to bring to an end one of the most destructive and time consuming issues in recent University history.
The controversy
The tenure issue began in 1995 when the board decided to review the school’s tenure code. The review was allegedly prompted by officials in the Academic Health Center, including former provost William Brody.
In October 1995, regents passed an amendment to the code limiting the time it took to fire tenured faculty, and sparking national attention and controversy on campus.
During the following months faculty leaders and top administrators separately discussed possible revisions to the code.
Then in June 1996, the regents got their first look at Faculty Senate tenure proposals and later decided to push the discussions off to the fall.
That summer some state legislators voiced their opinions about the code and the regents hired outside consultants to write a tenure code that incorporated the board’s suggestions for the tenure policy.
Despite Hasselmo’s warning that the board’s language was too harsh, regents presented their suggestions in September. They included the controversial language regarding layoff provisions and post-tenure review.
This ignited a fire that put the University in the national spotlight. Shortly after, irate faculty members from the University Faculty Alliance obtained a cease-and-desist order from the state’s Bureau of Mediation Services. The order prohibited talks on tenure from continuing. Meanwhile, the alliance started a drive toward faculty unionization.
“We were talking and getting the language problems worked out,” Reagan said. “We met with faculty leaders and talked and just as we were congratulating ourselves on so much progress, in walked someone with the cease-and-desist order.”
What followed was a complex series of events in which several of the University’s various colleges and campuses voted whether to join the unionization campaign. At that time, Gov. Arne Carlson entered the debate and controversial Regent Jean Keffeler resigned her seat.
Meanwhile, the board passed the Sullivan II proposal for the Law School after the state said the school wasn’t protected by the cease-and-desist order in November. The code is a combination of a code presented by Law School Dean Thomas Sullivan and regents’ revisions to that code. Regents made it obvious that this was what they wanted to implement for the whole University.
In November, the health center and Morris campus also voted not to join the union campaign. In January, Sullivan II was implemented for the Morris campus.
Though the union drive continued, many faculty and administrators felt it was losing steam. On Feb. 13, the University faculty voted not to join a collective bargaining unit.
The healing process
Looking back at the tenure issue, faculty and administrators said a number of things could have been done to prevent the problem.
Reagan said that relying on outside consultants caused resentment among faculty.
“Some of the language was harsh, but we didn’t have time to study it,” Reagan said. “That was the mistake; we should have taken more time to look at it.”
Reagan said the board only had a few hours to review the language before presenting the code last fall.
Faculty leaders agree there were serious mistakes made. “I think we should have had discussions earlier because then we could have addressed the issue and maybe headed it off before it became such a source of controversy,” Morrison said.
“The best way to have prevented it would have been to not bring tenure up in the first place,” Reagan said jokingly. “But seriously, we probably should have laid out what we were trying to do which was review tenure, not destroy it.”
“I hope this brings closure to the issue,” said FCC Chair Virginia Gray. “Our intention was to bring closure; nobody wants to bring it up again.”
Even though University officials said they expect the new code to pass muster with both the faculty and the regents, they also said they feel this is only the first step in a long healing process.
Officials agree that the main casualty in the tenure debate was the trust held between faculty members, regents and administrators. One of the major goals for everyone involved in the debate is to rebuild that trust.
Scars also remain outside the University. During the controversy, the school earned a reputation as an institution falling apart. Some people say this perception still exists.
To fix this, administrators and faculty agree the University must be vocal about the issue being over and stress that the healing has begun.
“We have to let it be known that the University of Minnesota continues to be a player,” Bognanno said. “And, no, this issue wasn’t neat, but damn it, it’s a winning outcome.”
Jennifer Niemela contributed to this article.