Regents close book on tenure

by Brian Bakst

Two years of haggling over contested changes to the faculty tenure code ended in less than three minutes Friday as the Board of Regents unanimously accepted a compromise tenure proposal.
“I wish we could have accomplished this in three minutes at the beginning,” said Virginia Gray, outgoing head of the Faculty Consultative Committee.
The revised code, which provides for intensive performance reviews while maintaining safeguards of academic freedom, applies to all University faculty members except those on the Crookston and Duluth campuses.
Crookston faculty members remain under a state-imposed labor order that prevents the board from tinkering with tenure at the campus. Duluth professors are covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
“It is very much a credit to the University that it has worked itself through the most volatile issue it could imagine,” said University President Nils Hasselmo.
Last summer, the regents made waves at home and nationwide with a proposal that contained a “proper attitude” clause that made it easier to fire tenured professors. The proposal fueled a faculty union drive spearheaded by the American Association of University Professors and the upstart University Faculty Alliance. Opponents narrowly defeated unionization in February.
The board tried to quell some of the unrest by adopting a toned-down package for the Law School in November. That plan was fine-tuned by a working group, known as the Committee of Eight, before it passed on Friday.
Regent Tom Reagan, until recently the board’s head, called the plan “a new and better tenure code,” a gift he said the board had promised University President-designate Mark Yudof. Regent Patricia Spence marked the occasion by writing a celebratory song to the tune of “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.”
“Now it’s all over, we’ll start anew. Faculty please realize that we do love you … Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, Wonderful day,” goes the song.
The compromise plan, which won overwhelming faculty approval at a Faculty Senate meeting earlier this month, puts in place a post-tenure review system to regularly check that tenured professors are fulfilling their roles as teachers and researchers. Those professors found to be performing poorly could face pay cuts or termination.
Other features of the plan include:
ù College or University-wide pay cuts in times of financial trouble. Such reductions must be approved by faculty governing bodies.
ù Extended probationary periods, giving colleges up to nine years to grant professors tenure.
ù Clearly defined salaries, distinguishing base pay from incentives.
“It’s a wonderful, peaceful solution,” said biochemistry professor Mary Dempsey, who heads a faculty tenure committee. “It’s too bad all the pain had to occur.”
Now regents, administrators and faculty members will focus on rebuilding relationships that suffered during the lengthy battle. But some say the more monumental task is repairing the University’s image in higher education circles.
“We need to get the word out in the academic community that the crisis is over,” Gray said.

Freelance Reporter Jennifer Neimela contributed to this report.