The University’…

Tracy Ellingson

The University’s tenure troubles have caused a commotion among college faculties nationwide, leaving the school’s reputation in an indefinite limbo.
“The effect of the proposed (tenure) changes … will remove Minnesota from the ranks of the nation’s great universities,” wrote Peter Kuriloff, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, in a letter to the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents.
Kuriloff, who is the chairman of his university’s faculty senate, wrote the regents this October at the request of the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate of the University of Pennsylvania. In his letter Kuriloff said the University’s proposed changes would amount to a unilateral disarmament because the school’s best faculty members would reject positions with the University to teach at other schools.
Kuriloff said the University’s academic reputation would wither away if tenure reforms caused an exodus of professors. If this happens, “the University of Pennsylvania would mourn the loss of a worthy competitor,” he said.
Aside from concerns about their fellow professors here at the University of Minnesota, faculty from institutions nationwide are also concerned about recommending their graduate students for teaching positions at the University.
“I think the general response by faculty who are mentoring students all over the country is going to be, ‘Stay away from them until (the tenure issue) gets cleared,'” Kuriloff said.
William Roy, a sociology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, also said he would dissuade his students from applying for teaching positions at the University of Minnesota until its Board of Regents resolves the tenure issue.
“Given recent deliberations by your board of regents,” Roy said in a letter to Minnesota’s Department of Sociology, “we will inform any of our students that apply for (jobs with the sociology department) that tenure may be severely compromised at your university.”
Both Kuriloff and Roy said they heard about the University’s tenure problems on the Internet.
“The public reaction from Minnesota went out over the Net,” said Kuriloff, who had read a letter off the Internet from members of the University of Minnesota’s Faculty Senate, laying out their concerns with the regents’ proposal.
The letter led to widespread dialogue on the University’s tenure issue. “(The letter) was followed by 50 different responses from everyplace,” Kuriloff said.
Roy said the University’s tenure proposals have been the topic of discussion in 10 of the professional groups to which he belongs.
Dr. Richard Chait, the director of the Center for Higher Education Governance and Leadership at the University of Maryland, agreed that faculty members at institutions around the country have responded to the University’s well-publicized situation with alarm. However, Chait added that this reaction came because outside faculty members thought the University might completely eliminate tenure, a proposal that regents have never considered.
“In my judgment, there is ample good will (from all interested parties at the University),” said Chait, who worked with the Board of Regents on the tenure issue this summer. “Everyone wants to act in the best interest of the University.”
The response from faculty around the country stems from concerns that tenure reform at the University will eventually lead to tenure reform at their schools as well.
Chait said an increasing number of schools have recently shown an interest in tenure reform. But Kuriloff and Roy both said that Minnesota is the first great research institution to consider such drastic changes.
Florida State University recently instituted tenure reforms for the system’s nine universities after two years of deliberations among regents, administration and faculty.
Florida’s reforms resulted in the agreement that tenured faculty would undergo a comprehensive post-tenure review every seven years in exchange for the less stringent annual reviews.
Dr. Joann Campbell, associate director of the Office of Human Resources at Florida State, said the school’s new tenure agreement has clearly defined criteria for acceptable teaching performance so faculty members know what the administration expects from them.
That the criteria for acceptable performance were vague was one criticism many University of Minnesota faculty members had of the regents’ September tenure proposal.
The regents’ proposal stated that faculty members who did not display “a proper attitude of industry and cooperation” would be subject to termination of employment.
Even though the process to reform tenure at Florida State took two years, Campbell said the process went relatively smoothly and was met with an overall positive response from all parties involved.
“Fear always comes with making changes,” Campbell said. “But by and large the faculty understand the need for (the administration) to be more accountable for how we spend our money. The faculty were involved every step of the way.”