Faculty decry disclosure of informal talk

Kelly Wittman

The committee representing the interests of the University’s faculty in the ongoing effort to change the tenure code has passed a resolution accusing Regent Jean Keffeler of effectively undermining the review process.
A May 16 resolution from the Faculty Consultative Committee states that Keffeler’s public disclosure of an informal discussion about tenure review with Faculty Senate leaders gave “the appearance of an attempt at unwarranted interference in the prescribed process for tenure review.”
The epicenter of the acrimony was Keffeler’s report on tenure at the May regents’ meeting, where she presented information based on her meeting with faculty leaders. Many of the faculty leaders thought the meeting had been off the record and would in no way figure in any tenure decision.
Keffeler said she called the meeting to establish communication with the new faculty tenure-review leadership and to avoid some pitfalls such as poor communication and misunderstandings.
She said her letter summarizing the meeting was a draft and that it says to contact her if there are any misunderstandings or concerns.
Keffeler added that her report to the regents was to clear up confusion generated when people who had not received a copy of her draft read an e-mail in which leaders of the faculty tenure review process criticized her actions.
The consultative committee was the group that the regents asked to start a faculty review of the tenure code, which ensures academic freedom by guaranteeing University professors job security. The Faculty Senate, the representative body for faculty, was asked in April to take over the tenure review discussions, which have been ongoing since fall. University administrators have said the tenure code needs to be revised to allow for greater fiscal flexibility in the face of declining state revenue.
After the tenure discussion was turned over to the senate, Faculty Consultative Committee Chairman Carl Adams told regents they should talk with Dan Feeney, Ed Fogelman and Mary Dempsey — all members of the senate — regarding the faculty review process.
Keffeler said she asked the regents’ office to set up a meeting with Feeney, Fogelman, Dempsey, Regent Pat Spence and herself. Dempsey was unable to attend.
Afterward, Keffeler drafted a letter summarizing the meeting and sent it to those present. Keffeler said she received an e-mail from Fogelman and Feeney about two days later.
The e-mail pointed out that the faculty leaders had believed the discussion was off the record and that the leaders did not represent their committees at the meeting.
The confusion was compounded when Keffeler gave a report about the meeting to the regents’ Faculty, Staff and Student Affairs Committee.
The letter and Keffeler’s report made it look like faculty committee leaders were acting in tandem with a couple of regents to enact changes to the code, said Feeney, chairman of the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs.
“All of a sudden, something that we thought was unofficial became official,” Feeney said, and the already-tense relations between faculty leaders and administration regarding the tenure code review grew more strained. “Everybody is very, very sensitive to process.”
People may have thought the regents were trying to influence faculty leaders on the review process, Feeney said, adding that there may have been concern that key tenure-review discussions were taking place without the whole committee. The consultative committee passed the resolution to let people know the committee is willing to hear good ideas from anybody and that no action will be taken out of an official forum, Feeney said.
Spence said everyone at the meeting agreed they represented neither the faculty nor the regents. At the close of the lunch, Spence said, Keffeler was asked to draw up a summary of the meeting and send it to all present for review.
Keffeler had a responsibility to give some kind of report to regents about the luncheon, Spence said. What Keffeler said in her resultant report was harmless, she said, and it did not commit the faculty to any position in the eyes of the regents.
Keffeler said she tried to set up a teleconference through the regents’ office to clear up the misunderstanding, but that Fogelman did not wish to meet.
Fogelman refused to comment for this story.
“I respect the decision that professor Fogelman made, but for my part, I am more than willing to talk about this matter in whatever venue the faculty feels is appropriate,” Keffeler said. “I am respectful of the process set up to give due consideration for how changes are made.”