Proposed tenure plan draws Faculty Senate fire

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The Faculty Senate and the Faculty Senate Executive Committee voted that a draft of the Faculty Evaluation Policy was “irremediably flawed.” As of Wednesday, Sept. 5, the Executive Committee and 47 of the 50 senators voted to mandate that the proposals be withdrawn by the office of the Vice President of Academic Affairs. The remaining three senators abstained.

“…in summary, we request that the proposed policies … be withdrawn from consideration,” the Executive Committee stated in a letter to the Vice President of Academic Affairs, Manoj Patankar,  “If this is not considered a viable option, the Senate is prepared to act further to ensure that these proposed policies are not enacted.”

The draft, which was released to the department chairs on August 22, outlined the procedures and policies for evaluating faculty performance. The policy maintained that all full-time faculty members would be evaluated in three areas of responsibility: teaching, research and service. A section that raised significant concern, however, was the section that addressed the process of post-tenure review.

The draft proposes a post-tenure review process that could result in not only a demotion to a non-tenured position for previously tenured faculty, but also the termination of that faculty member’s position.

In the draft, it is stated that the proposal is meant to serve three purposes:

“It should recognize strengths and identify reasonable means to support continued, professional success; it should identify weaknesses and provide opportunity, as well as reasonable support to improve performance; and it should facilitate an appropriate change in faculty member’s appointment status if performance improvements are not forthcoming within the agreed time frame,” according to Section 4.4.4 of the Faculty Review Policy draft.

Under this proposed policy, the post-tenure review would be conducted every six years from the date of initial tenure. The review process would take into account previous annual reviews, which all full-time faculty must undergo every year, and would have a similar structure to the review faculty go through to initially receive tenure.

The review would proceed through respective departments, colleges and schools and university-level rank and tenure committees, as well as department chair, dean and director reviews and recommendations. The final decision on the review, however, will be made by the Vice President for Academic Affairs.

The review could result in one of four potential outcomes: continued tenure status, moved to a non-tenured track position, placed on a Performance Improvement Plan followed by a re-evaluation after two years or receipt of a terminal contract.

Should the tenured faculty member wish to appeal the decision, the appeal process will go to the office of the President, whose decision on the matter will be final.

In an article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, B. Robert Kreiser, the associate secretary of the American Association of University Professors, an organization which works to ensure fair treatment of faculty working in high education, stated that SLU’s proposed tenure policy is among the worst he had seen.

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

The post-tenure review was not the only issue the Faculty Senate had with the proposed draft. These grievances were listed in a message sent from the Executive Committee to the Faculty Senate.

The Senate felt that the actions proposed contradicted the Faculty Manual. They also felt that the methods suggested for evaluating and rewarding faculty were inconsistent and arbitrary and that they undermined the management of the University.

The Senate went on to say that the policies would place an undue burden on both chairs and faculty and that implementing these policies would impede the University’s ability to recruit and retain faculty.

Finally, Faculty Senate maintained that these policies would have an adverse effect on the morale of the current faculty, something that would hurt future University improvement.

This message was compiled by the Executive Committee based on feedback collected from the faculty on several concerns raised with the policy draft.

On September 4, before the Faculty Senate vote was finalized, Patankar sent out a message to the faculty restating that the policy is still in draft form and that feedback had been collected on the matter would continue to be collected as the policy is improved upon.

“All these representatives—chairs, deans, and [Faculty Senate Executive  Committee] members—are actively engaged in listening to the various perspectives, offering their own interpretation and explanation….” Patankar said in his letter, “I would like to remind everyone that the policy on faculty evaluation—as well as the companion policies on workload, recognition, and the definition of terms used in all four policies—is rooted in over two years’ worth of effort and responsibility shared by a broad range of faculty and academic leaders.”

Patankar went on to explain the events and discussions that went into creating the draft, including the collection of evaluation instruments and materials by the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, department chair workshops that addressed evaluations and the need to implement a post-tenure review process and the three faculty task forces created to address evaluation-related issues and offer proposals on how to measure and encourage faculty effectiveness.

“Through these efforts and the accompanying conversations, I gathered that there is broad support for increased emphasis on academic and research quality, increased investment in high-performing academic programs and high-quality faculty members and rehabilitation of underperforming academic programs as well as individual faculty members,” Patankar said in his letter, “Also, there seemed to be support for closing of underperforming academic programs and termination of underperforming faculty, when absolutely necessary, so that we can provide the best value to our students and continue to reward our top-performing faculty and programs.”

Patankar maintained that he would continue to accept constructive feedback on the policy to achieve the best possible outcome, but the Faculty Senate’s vote states that they will not stand for the draft in its current form.