Tenure issues persist at U

Brian Bakst

Editor’s note: Proposed revisions to the faculty tenure code have been a source of conflict between University regents, administrators and faculty for more than a year. Beginning Thursday, the Daily will begin comprehensive coverage of the tenure controversy. Today’s article will serve as a recap to this summer’s events.

Lingering like a dark cloud over the University, the tenure issue won’t seem to go away.
Tenure has proved to be an explosive issue, providing for lively discussions and rigid conflict between University regents, administrators and faculty members. Recent developments have assured that tenure will remain in the limelight indefinitely.
As of Sept. 13, regents, administrators and faculty have been unable to continue negotiating a resolution to the tenure issue because of a work conditions freeze by the state Bureau of Mediation Services. The cease-and-desist order was issued after a group seeking to unionize the faculty gathered enough signatures to call for a union election.
The University Faculty Alliance received a surge of signature cards after regents unveiled a tenure revision package that included the possibility for tenured faculty layoffs after departments are closed or restructured. The proposal also includes a provision for disciplining faculty who fail to maintain a “proper attitude of industry with others.”
But disagreement over revisions to the tenure code weren’t always on the forefront this summer, which began with high hopes for a quick resolution.
In June, at the prompting of the regents, the Faculty Senate brought forth a series of amendments to the tenure code. The amendments included the possibility for a longer pre-tenure probationary period, more temporary teaching assignments and a post-tenure peer review process which carried with it punishments, such as limited pay reductions or termination, for repeated substandard performance.
University President Nils Hasselmo and his executive council quickly embraced the senate’s suggested revisions. Regents Chairman Tom Reagan repeatedly praised the faculty leadership for making progress on the fragile issue.
But Reagan and the other regents said they needed more time to mull over the suggested changes before approving them. Tenure surrendered the spotlight to the University Hospital-Fairview merger until the regents’ August retreat in Deerwood, Minn.
While University administrators focused on the merger, state officials took the opportunity to express their opinions on tenure revision.
State Reps. Becky Kelso, DFL-Shakopee, and Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, wrote regents to urge the board to go beyond the often “cumbersome” faculty proposal. Furthermore, State Finance Commissioner Laura King told regents that a special $6 million appropriation to the University, contingent on tenure reforms, was in jeopardy pending the extent of regents’ revisions to the code.
State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, defended the faculty’s proposal, however, and admonished her legislative colleagues. Kahn’s husband, Donald, is a math professor at the University.
The August retreat served as a forum for regents to discuss the future of the University and how tenure fits into their vision. Some regents hinted that they would like to give administrators more flexibility when departments close or are restructured.
Further review of the tenure code was deferred to the regents’ September meeting in Morris, Minn. The board unveiled its own suggested revisions at the meeting, despite warnings from Hasselmo that the proposal was too strong.
The regents’ suggested revisions, which were drafted by a Washington, D.C., law firm, included a controversial layoff provision. The current tenure code requires that faculty members be reassigned during restructuring or discontinuation of University programs.
Under the regents’ proposal, administrators would also have more authority in post-tenure reviews that could result in pay reduction. In contrast, the Faculty Senate had proposed a more peer-controlled review process.
The regents’ proposal immediately drew fire from faculty groups both campus and nationwide. The American Association of University Professors called it a deviation from the mainstream. Faculty Consultative Committee members spoke of the detrimental effects the revisions might have on recruitment and retention.
The University Faculty Alliance continued to make its case for a faculty union by collecting signatures, prompting the state intervention.
It is uncertain when or if a union election will be held. Thus, it is also uncertain when the tenure cloud will finally drift past the University.