Law profs get mild proposalon tenure

Staff Reporter
Under intense scrutiny and left with few other options, the Board of Regents voted Friday to send the Faculty Senate a toned-down Law School tenure revision package.
A tenure proposal drafted by Law School Dean E. Thomas Sullivan, viewed by many as a compromise between Faculty Senate and regent tenure proposals, will also be sent to the Faculty Senate for discussion and recommendations before the next regents’ meeting on Nov. 7 and 8.
Although the regents’ new proposal is less objectionable to many faculty members than an earlier draft, it does not completely close the gap between what some regents want and what faculty members and administration want. The ability of administrators to lay off members when programs close remains the biggest issue of contention.
Faculty members packed the Regents’ Room in Morrill Hall, and many more spilled into the hallway to hear the regents try to salvage what they could of the tenure reform process.
Some regents, administrators and faculty members have publicly described the attempt at tenure reform as a process gone bad. But Board of Regents Chairman Tom Reagan said the board should not be viewed as an enemy of tenure for trying to modify the code to address changing circumstances in higher education. “For anyone to suggest that this board would take any action that might diminish this institution in any way is either misleading or deceivingly self-serving,” he said amid jeers from faculty members in the room.
The Law School represents about 1 percent of University faculty members, and is the only place regents can impose tenure reforms because a petition has not been filed by the school’s faculty members for unionization.
At the urging of University President Nils Hasselmo and after lengthy deliberation by the board and its lawyer over the legality of the Law School dean speaking at Friday’s meeting, Sullivan was permitted to outline tenure changes he would prefer.
“Clearly, this is an issue where more common sense must prevail,” Sullivan said to the board. “The stakes are too high: We all agree that our University is the intellectual and the economic engine of the state of Minnesota,” Sullivan said.
“No one wins if we continue on this present course,” he added.
Sullivan’s proposal does not permit layoffs when programs close. Instead, it allows the president to impose temporary, across-the-board pay cuts to offset financial shortfalls. These pay cuts would have to be approved by regents and the Faculty Senate.
Hasselmo’s chief of staff, Mario Bognanno was impressed by Sullivan’s ideas. “Tom Sullivan’s proposal is flexibility for changing times,” he said.
But Regent Patricia Spence still contends that a stronger layoff authority is the only way to ensure adequate flexibility in the future. “Personally, I think layoffs for program discontinuation are important for our tenure code,” she said, adding that waiting for professors to retire would put the board in a reactive rather than proactive mode.
Hasselmo and his administration said they believe anticipated retirements would give the regents enough flexibility to do necessary restructuring. In order to show regents that flexibility will come naturally, Hasselmo’s staff has pinpointed more than 1,000 anticipated retirements in the next ten years and the colleges where they will take place.
The regents’ Law School-directed proposal, if adopted, would give the University the right to lay off tenured faculty members if a program is shut down and faculty members could not be easily reassigned elsewhere. Consistent with language adopted by the American Association of University Professors, the decision to close a program in the regents’ proposal would require faculty input and 90 days notice.
One instance where extended layoff authority might have been used was the closing of the Waseca campus in 1991. While 13 tenured faculty members took advantage of a retirement package offered by the University, 20 professors had to be reassigned to other University campuses. Some were reassigned to positions that were created for the sake of reassignment.
Marvin Marshak, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, said laying off the extra Waseca faculty members would not have yielded substantial savings.
He said the cost of severance payments alone make the idea unattractive. Under the regents’ proposals, terminated faculty members would receive one full year’s pay and health benefits. The average salary of a University professor is about $62,000 per year.
Overall, Marshak said, the $130 million the University pays tenured faculty amounts to less than 10 percent of the University’s annual budget.
The regents’ Law School tenure proposal also takes steps to remove some ambiguities that plagued the original regents’ proposal released in September in Morris, Minn. Gone is the section that allows reductions in base salary for “compelling” reasons. Spence said the section was misconstrued and it was never the intention of the board to lower an individual’s base salary, although she did not say what the intent was.
The board’s proposal for the Law School also scraps a board-developed, administration-influenced post-tenure review process in favor of the Faculty Senate’s faculty-controlled version. After the Morris meeting in September, many faculty expressed concern that the regents’ post-tenure review contained too much administrative involvement.
The Faculty Senate’s post-tenure evaluation process is faculty driven. It includes a multi-step review that leaves room for faculty members to improve their performance before pay is reduced.
While the regents’ new proposal is a move toward compromise, many faculty members believe it is still too harsh. Other faculty members question what affect the new proposal will have on the outcome of a union election, especially because it came out while the board is under a cease-and-desist order from the state.
“Coming at the moment it did, it is an attempt to throw a monkey wrench into the union drive,” said English professor Paula Rabinowitz, a co-coordinator of the University Faculty Alliance.
Rabinowitz said the alliance has yet to decide if it will file a lawsuit against the board for trying to undermine a union election, but added, “there is always a potential for a lawsuit.”
Alliance member and Classical and Near Eastern Studies professor Bob Sonkowsky said the board’s softened stance on tenure reform could conceivably “blunt the union drive in the minds of some faculty members.”