Board of Regents thwarting shared governance

We, the elected leadership of the Twin Cities Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, are concerned about the breakdown in the University’s system of shared governance represented by the regents’ adoption of a tenure code for the Law School on Thursday in an “emergency” session. The primary purpose of the AAUP is to ensure academic freedom through the use of effective tenure codes, due process and the tradition of shared governance at our nation’s colleges and universities. Although E. Thomas Sullivan, dean of the Law School, drafted a tenure code that omitted the egregious violations of academic freedom in the earlier proposals promoted by Regents Jean Keffeler, Tom Reagan, Patricia Spence and Hyon Kim, the regents’ actions on Thursday do not reflect effective governance for a vital state institution.
The credible threat of collective bargaining by faculty members perhaps made the regents want to appear as if they were willing to compromise. Unfortunately, the regents retained the right to exercise arbitrary power in the future. Thus, the legacy of mistrust continues.
We find ourselves in the ironic position of agreeing with Keffeler’s concerns about the use of an emergency meeting to pass a piecemeal tenure code. As Keffeler indicated, the regents meeting was possible only after their lawyers persuaded the Bureau of Mediation Services to lift the Maintenance of Status Quo order for the Law School at 5 p.m. the evening before the hastily called 9 a.m. meeting. The lawyers’ argument was based on a challenge to one signature (in a faculty of several thousand). Shared governance requires the goodwill of the faculty, administrators and Board of Regents, which is difficult to achieve when governing on the basis of what Keffeler called “legal loopholes” or “technicalities.”
The Sullivan II proposal, the latest entree in the tenure codes du jour, was not available to faculty members until 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 6, when an electronic version was accessible from the Internet. The Faculty Senate’s discussion, evaluation and careful consideration of changes to the University’s tenure code, a required part of our system of shared governance, did not take place. Indeed, even Reagan could not respond to a reporter’s repeated request for a plain-English description of the advantages of this version of the tenure code.
Instead of using emergency powers to adopt a tenure code for the Law School, the regents had available a proposal from the AAUP-UFA as of noon the day before their meeting on Thursday. The proposal was to suspend the Maintenance of Status Quo Order to enter into direct negotiations with representatives of the faculty for a University-wide tenure code, provided the regents agreed to a faculty vote of approval for any negotiated settlement. Rather than discussing or even mentioning the possibility of this solution, the regents staged their emergency meeting for the Law School. As with every other proposal/resolution sent to the regents by the faculty and students during the past 12 months, the regents have chosen to ignore us.
The AAUP endorses open discussion and the freedom to debate and challenge, which are fundamental not only to successful research universities, but to the democratic principles of our nation. Thus, when Keffeler asked during the emergency meeting that Faculty Consultative Committee Chairwoman Virginia Gray be allowed to indicate whether the elected faculty members had changed their positions given the new Sullivan II proposal, we were deeply saddened that this request was refused. Following the refusal, the regents quickly called for an end of discussion. No faculty voice was heard. Even University President Nils Hasselmo’s request for a two-year moratorium on tenure was not considered. At the press conference after the meeting, Reagan indicated that he could not make any promises about a moratorium on the tenure issue for the University because of the status quo order. But if the regents felt it was legal to change the tenure code for the Law School, shouldn’t they also feel free to state an intention not to change the Law School’s tenure code for the next several years?
We renew our request that the regents consider and respond favorably to the AAUP-UFA proposal, for we believe that this crisis can be resolved quickly for the entire University, particularly if the regents truly endorse the Sullivan II proposal as a compromise. We hope the regents are not stuck on a path of reshaping the University into a corporate management scheme better able to be re-engineered and downsized at their pleasure, and contrary to faculty core values of academic freedom and shared governance. At the very least, the regents owe the students, faculty and staff members of the University careful consideration and response of a good faith offer to negotiate an end to the tenure crisis. It would be refreshing for them to hold their discussion in an open meeting. Given the precedent of the use of emergency powers to discuss a tenure code for 33 faculty, wouldn’t it be a reasonable use of the power for the rest of us?

V. Rama Murthy,
Carolyn L. Williams,vice president; Stephen Gudeman,secretary/treasurer;
Twin Cities Chapter AAUP