Vote on fac­ulty mea­sure de­layed

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JAIME ADAME

No vote will take place next week on a pro­posed Univer­sity of Arkansas Sys­tem pol­icy up­date crit­i­cized by fac­ulty mem­bers as weak­en­ing aca­demic tenure, a univer­sity spokesman said Mon­day.

The draft pol­icy up­date sent last month to top ad­min- is­tra­tors at

UA Sys­tem cam­puses said dis­missal pro­ceed­ings for tenured fac­ulty would be­gin one year af­ter an “un­sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance rat­ing” if the an­nual eval­u­a­tion does not im­prove.

Fac­ulty mem­bers at dif­fer­ent cam­puses in the UA Sys­tem said they were not con­sulted in the draft­ing of the guide­lines and ques­tioned the specifics of the pro­posed changes.

The UA Sys­tem state­ment Mon­day comes af­ter fac­ulty mem­bers at dif­fer­ent cam­puses said they had ex­pected a vote on the pol­icy re­vi­sion at the next trustees’ meet­ing, sched­uled for Nov. 8-9 in Lit­tle Rock.

“The [sys­tem’s] board of trustees has ul­ti­mate au­thor­ity. But the way the process is sup­posed to work is ev­ery­body is sup­posed to be work­ing to­gether, with in­volve­ment from the peo­ple who ac­tu­ally un­der­stand th­ese is­sues,” Joshua Sil­ver­stein, a Univer­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock law pro­fes­sor, said in a phone in­ter­view Fri­day.

At stake be­yond job pro­tec­tions is the aca­demic free­dom that fac­ulty mem­bers need to speak out and pur­sue re­search of im­por­tance to the pub­lic, said Sil­ver­stein, who has writ­ten a de­tailed cri­tique of the pro­posed pol­icy change.

Told of Mon­day’s state­ment from the UA Sys­tem, Sil­ver­stein called it “an ex­tremely pos­i­tive step.”

“This shows ap­pro­pri­ate re­spon­sive­ness to the con­cerns of the fac­ulty about both the sub­stance and the process,” Sil­ver­stein said.

UA Sys­tem spokesman Nate Hinkel said in an email that the draft re­vi­sion was de­liv­ered to cam­pus chan­cel­lors as a way to gather feed­back. Any pol­icy changes re­quire ap­proval from the 10-mem­ber board of trustees, Hinkel said.

In­for­ma­tion will be pre­sented at next week’s board meet­ing “about the ba­sis for the re­vi­sions and the process mov­ing for­ward to fi­nal­ize drafts for fu­ture con­sid­er­a­tion.”

The in­tent is “to bring UA Sys­tem pol­icy in line with cur­rent law and prac­tice,” Hinkel said, with many of the changes in­tended to “bring clar­ity to stan­dards that al­ready ex­ist in prac­tice.”

But Leanne Le­fler, pres­i­dent of the aca­demic se­nate at the Univer­sity of Arkansas for Med­i­cal Sci­ences, said that when the group’s coun­cil of ap­prox­i­mately 25 fac­ulty mem­bers took a look at the pol­icy, “we found it to be con­fus­ing.”

“The lan­guage could be mis­con­strued as ar­bi­trary,” said Le­fler, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of nurs­ing.

Gre­gory Scholtz, with the Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Univer­sity Pro­fes­sors, said that typ­i­cal grounds for dis­missal “are such things as gross mis­con­duct or pro­fes­sional un­fit­ness.”

The mem­ber or­ga­ni­za­tion ad­vo­cates for aca­demic free­dom, and Scholtz, as­so­ciate sec­re­tary and di­rec­tor of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s De­part­ment of Aca­demic Free­dom, Tenure and Gover­nance, said that “un­sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance” is a vague stan­dard for dis­missal.

Tenured fac­ulty mem­bers have the right of con­tin­u­ous ap­point­ment, ac­cord­ing to cur­rent UA Sys­tem pol­icy. It also lays out a re­quire­ment for an­nual re­views, which form the ba­sis of tenure and pro­mo­tion rec­om­men­da­tions from an aca­demic de­part­ment chair­man or sim­i­lar cam­pus aca­demic of­fi­cial.

Even for fac­ulty mem­bers who re­ceive tenure, the an­nual re­views con­tinue.

Un­like the ex­ist­ing pol­icy, the draft up­date ties to­gether “un­sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance” rat­ings with dis­missal.

“Any cam­pus pro­ce­dures re­gard­ing post-tenure re­view shall not al­low greater than one aca­demic year, with ac­tive co­op­er­a­tion from the fac­ulty mem­ber, for an over­all un­sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance rat­ing to be sub­stan­tially reme­died prior to a rec­om­men­da­tion of dis­missal on the ba­sis of un­sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance,” the draft states.

It is a re­vi­sion of the UA Sys­tem’s Ap­point­ments, Pro­mo­tion, Tenure, Non-reap­point­ment, and Dis­missal of Fac­ulty board pol­icy.

“The lan­guage could be more spe­cific be­cause that un­sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance term is used and re­ally would need to be clar­i­fied,” Le­fler said.

Sil­ver­stein said that with the pro­posed re­vi­sion, “it’s too easy to come up with a cover rea­son to get rid of a fac­ulty mem­ber you don’t like.”

He said he’s been at UALR for more than 13 years. He called dis­missal of fac­ulty “rel­a­tively rare.”

On the UA-Fayet­teville cam­pus, the largest by far in the state in terms of en­roll­ment, there are 554 tenured fac­ulty and 257 non­tenured fac­ulty mem­bers on the “tenure track.” Over the past six years, the cam­pus has had a sin­gle dis­missal of a tenured fac­ulty mem­ber, UA-Fayet­teville spokesman Mark Rush­ing said.

Pro­ce­dures for fac­ulty fac­ing dis­missal in­clude the right to re­quest a hear­ing, with pan­elists made up of other fac­ulty mem­bers. The hear­ing com­mit­tee makes a rec­om­men­da­tion, with the UA Sys­tem pres­i­dent to de­cide on dis­missal. An ap­peal can be made to the UA Sys­tem trustees board.

Le­fler said the UAMS aca­demic se­nate coun­cil has voted to op­pose the edited pol­icy and pro­vide rec­om­men­da­tions. The UA Sys­tem re­sponded last week with an up­date to its ear­lier draft, but this ver­sion also in­cluded lan­guage that tied “un­sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance” rat­ings to dis­missal.

At a reg­u­larly-sched­uled Wed­nes­day meet­ing, she said Aca­demic Se­nate mem­bers were sur­prised to learn from the school’s top ad­min­is­tra­tor, Stephanie Gard­ner, that a trustees’ vote on the re­vi­sions was ex­pected to take place at the Nov. 8-9 meet­ing.

“That was not what we ex­pected,” Le­fler said. “We thought we would have time to work on this.”

When she was told Mon­day evening that no vote would take place, Lelfer said the group was “pleased be­cause it gives us some time to re­ally help with re­vis­ing the pol­icy.”

Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville pro­fes­sors last week ex­pressed alarm that a pos­si­ble change was in the works with­out the ma­jor­ity of fac­ulty mem­bers be­ing no­ti­fied.

“It’s pretty dis­turb­ing that we found out about this through a me­dia out­let,” Ja­nine Parry, a UA-Fayet­teville po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor, said Thurs­day at a reg­u­larly-sched­uled meet­ing of the cam­pus fac­ulty.

Af­ter Sil­ver­stein’s cri­tique was pub­lished on­line, news ar­ti­cles fol­lowed in the Arkansas Times and the Chronicle of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion.

Rush­ing, with UA-Fayet­teville, said ad­min­is­tra­tors shared a copy of the draft pro­posal in late Septem­ber with the cam­pus’ Fac­ulty Se­nate.

But sev­eral UA-Fayet­teville fac­ulty mem­bers at the Thurs­day meet­ing said they were un­aware of the de­tails of the pro­posal, even as Kevin Hall, chair­man of the UA-Fayet­teville Fac­ulty Se­nate, said he un­der­stood that the pro­posal was ex­pected to be voted on at the Nov. 8-9 meet­ing.

Some spoke at the meet­ing about email­ing mem­bers of the UA Sys­tem’s board trustees to ex­press con­cern with the pro­posal.

Todd Shields, dean of UA-Fayet­teville’s J. Wil­liam Ful­bright Col­lege of Arts and Sci­ences, said at the meet­ing that he’s the chair­man of a search com­mit­tee to find the univer­sity’s next law dean.

“The can­di­dates that we al­ready had ap­ply al­ready called, say­ing, ‘What is go­ing on?’” Shields said.

Le­fler also spoke about how recruitment would be af­fected at UAMS. “It would be dif­fi­cult to re­cruit and re­tain the best and bright­est fac­ulty,” she said.

Sil­ver­stein spoke about the im­por­tance of tenure in how fac­ulty do their jobs.

“The pur­pose of tenure is to pro­tect free­dom of in­quiry in re­search most im­por­tantly but also in teach­ing and pub­lic ser­vice, which are the other two pil­lars of our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties,” Sil­ver­stein said. “With­out tenure, it is too easy to sti­fle free­dom of in­quiry, di­rectly or in­di­rectly.”

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