State questions U’s wish to alter tenure

by Brian Bakst

Tenure revisions will wait until this fall, said the Board of Regents on Thursday.
And while regents expressed continued support for proposed tenure changes suggested by the Faculty Senate, at least two state representatives took a more pessimistic view.
In a letter sent to regents Thursday, State Rep. Becky Kelso, DFL-Shakopee, and Steve Kelly, DFL-Hopkins, told regents the proposed changes were not enough. Kelso is the chairman of the University of Minnesota Finance Division of the House Education Committee.
“The faculty recommendations do not provide a clear link between performance and compensation,” the two representatives wrote.
The Faculty Senate’s proposed changes include provisions for longer faculty pre-tenure periods, more temporary teaching appointments and a post-tenure review system which allows for salary reduction if faculty receive repeated poor reviews.
Regents who wanted more flexibility in tenure-related decisions advocated code changes. Regents also wanted the code to more clearly define what can be done with tenured professors when departments close.
Last April the Legislature made $6.6 million in appropriations to the Academic Health Center contingent upon changes in the health center’s tenure code. Faculty members and administrators did not want to have a tenure system with different rules for different University units, so the entire faculty tenure code was brought up for review.
Commissioner of the State Department of Finance Laura King said in a July 2 letter to regents that proposed tenure changes did not meet legislative expectations. She said if action is delayed and does not include substantial changes beyond the faculty proposal “the release of funds may be jeopardized.”
Regent Chairman Thomas Reagan responded to King’s letter by noting the board’s continued commitment to retaining the “advice and recommendation” of the Faculty Senate. He said because the senate will not meet again until September the process must be delayed.
Several regents, including Reagan, said regents should further review the code during their annual August retreat. But Regent Jean Keffeler said she does not want to seclude such an important issue at the retreat. “I don’t think the retreat is the best environment for that.”
In June, Dr. Richard Chait, a tenure consultant hired by regents in May, updated regents on national trends relating to tenure. Chait also instructed regents to evaluate the consequences of their actions. But King said the role of the consultant, hired by the regents for $25,000, was unclear.
Chait recently completed an evaluation of the faculty’s proposal. His report concluded there was “too much focus on policy and too little focus on policy objectives.”
The Kelso-King letter reflected a similar sentiment. “Now is the time to draw the faculty into a discussion leading to more substantive tenure changes than those proposed so far.”