Major tenure change to wait

by Lynne Kozarek

After several months of heated discussion about tenure, the Faculty Senate affirmed a new sense of cooperation Thursday at its final meeting of the academic year, but much work remains to be done on tenure revision.
Several housekeeping amendments to the tenure code were proposed and passed at the meeting, one of many tenure meetings held in the past year. No formal changes in the code have been made, however, and none will be made until the wording of the code is changed according to faculty policies and is approved by the Board of Regents.
University administrators have proposed to change the tenure code to better fit the economic structure and budget of the University. Tenure is the system that guarantees faculty will not be fired for researching or teaching unpopular views.
The struggle over tenure changes, which is often characterized as academic freedom versus economics, has drawn national attention from faculty members who are concerned that changes in the University’s tenure code could set bad precedents for tenure systems and faculty job security at other schools.
University President Nils Hasselmo, during his report to the senate, said he understood the difficulty of working with an issue as sensitive as tenure. He said work on tenure revisions could be more effectively done with a spirit of cooperation among faculty members and administrators.
For its part, the senate discussed the wording of several of the proposed amendments for more than an hour, but found little else to dispute about them.
Several of the changes were proposed in a motion about the judicial committee having its own legal officer. Some members believed the wording, which stated the officer “… may not be a member …” of the committee, was not strong enough. The language was subsequently changed to, “… cannot be a member …” and the motion passed after approximately 45 minutes of discussion.
Many members also found fault in a motion that amended the peer review process of faculty performance, annual reviews and special review in cases of substandard performance.
“These amendments,” said Chairman of the Faculty Affairs Committee Dan Feeney, “were designed to be a trigger mechanism to enforce the policies (concerning annual reviews and substandard performance) already in place.”
Feeney also said that if, during annual reviews, problem cases were discovered, then the second-level mechanism contained in the amendment would allow closer scrutiny of an allegedly “substandard” professor, defined as a professor whose performance falls substantially below the goals and expectations established in each academic unit.
The amendment also states that if, during the annual review, a faculty member is suspected of “substandard” performance, that individual has one year to show improvement, or a special review can be conducted.
Many members of the senate were concerned that if a faculty member’s performance had been subpar for more than one year, the individual might not be able to rise to the standard level of academic expectation in a year. The tenure working group will further study revision of this amendment.
The senate also included a motion that provided definitions to be used in the regulations and a preamble summarizing the entire tenure code.
In a lighter moment, Mary Dempsey, chairwoman of the tenure working group, joked that because many legislators have had trouble understanding the tenure code in its original form, the preamble was very important.
The atmosphere of this meeting was substantially more relaxed than at the April 18 meeting. Faculty Senate members say they must not force decisions on the regents, but must be firm about their opinions.