Eviscerating Tenure

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Faculty-Review Proposal at Saint Louis U. Would ‘Eviscerate Tenure,’ AAUP Says

By Audrey Williams June

Faculty members at Saint Louis University are worried about a proposed post-tenure review policy that the American Association of University Professors says is written in a way that has the potential to endanger the tenure status of professors at the Jesuit institution.

“Post-tenure review should be for the purposes of assisting faculty members in improving their performance,” says B. Robert Kreiser, associate secretary of the AAUP. “But the policy that has been proposed would effectively eviscerate tenure as it’s understood at most institutions of higher learning.”

At issue in the proposed policy, which is slated to take effect in January, are two of the potential outcomes it outlines for a post-tenure review. The proposal says that, following a review, professors could remain tenured or could be placed on a “performance improvement plan” with a re-evaluation in two years; both of those potential outcomes are typical in post-tenure reviews.

But the other options under the Saint Louis plan—moving faculty to non-tenure-track positions or giving them a terminal contract, in which they would be fired with a year’s notice—are “of grave concern,” said Mr. Kreiser, who has reviewed the policy. “This policy is certainly among the worst I’ve seen, and it’s hard to imagine a policy that could be much worse than this one.”

The policy also says that post-tenure review will be similar to the regular tenure-and-promotion process. Mr. Kreiser said that sends a message that “even though you have tenure now, we’re going to review you as though you do not.”

The policy would apply to full-time professors, although some would be exempt. Those to whom the policy would not apply include university medical group professors, department chairs, directors of degree-granting centers, deans, and faculty members on the university’s campus in Madrid.

A university spokeswoman at Saint Louis University did not respond to requests for comment.

The proposed post-tenure-review policy became public at a time when the university had just responded to the highly publicized resignation this month of the dean of its law school. In resigning, Annette Clark, who had been hired just over a year ago, sent a letter to the institution’s president, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, and its vice president of academic affairs, in which she said that she lacked confidence in their ability to lead the university and that they weren’t committed to the law school’s success. She accused Father Biondi of a series of actions that “evinced hostility” toward her position, such as deciding, without consulting her, that the law school would move to a donated building downtown.

Father Biondi responded in a letter of his own that Ms. Clark was about to be fired on the same day that she resigned, August 8.

A Marked Departure

The controversy over the proposed post-tenure-review policy at Saint Louis has been more muted, with many faculty members saying they were reluctant to discuss it. Some said they feared that administrators could use post-tenure review to get rid of tenured faculty members they don’t like.

Mr. Kreiser, of the AAUP, said the proposal is a marked departure from past policies at Saint Louis, which typically have been favorably viewed by his association. In fact, he said, the association has cited the university’s faculty handbook as a model for other institutions.

In general, the AAUP views post-tenure reviews as unnecessary since faculty members are already reviewed regularly at most institutions. But as a growing number of colleges began to adopt formal post-tenure reviews, the AAUP crafted minimum standards that it recommends for such evaluations. Among them is that post-tenure reviews shouldn’t be used to make individual professors prove why they shouldn’t be dismissed. Post-tenure reviews also should be developmental, the association says.

Faculty leaders at Saint Louis are encouraging professors to register their concerns about the policy. In an e-mail message sent Monday to all faculty, Mark M. Knuepfer, who is president of the Faculty Senate and a professor of pharmacological and physiological science in the medical school, urged his colleagues to weigh in by September 10 with comments that will be incorporated into an official response from the senate’s executive committee. Mr. Knuepfer asked professors to submit comments that are “as constructive as possible.”

The details of the post-tenure-review proposal are outlined in a document called “Faculty Evaluation,” which is part of a larger faculty policy review at Saint Louis. Two other documents, “Faculty Workload” and “Faculty Recognition,” propose guidelines on how to measure faculty workload and how to reward faculty members financially and otherwise for their work. The policy proposals, according to those documents, are intended to provide a “common university-level framework” so that Saint Louis can “achieve its full potential in accomplishing its strategic goals through teaching, research, clinical care, and service activities.”

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