SACUA says alternative needed for tenure proposal

Allison Kruske/Daily
Members of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs discuss a proposal to extend the maximum allowed tenure probationary period for University faculty from eight to 10 years in the Regents Room of the Fleming Administration Building on Monday, Feb. 21. Buy this photo

BY KAITLIN WILLIAMS
Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 21, 2011

Members of the lead faculty governing body plan to present a faculty counterproposal to University Provost Philip Hanlon’s recommendation to lengthen the tenure probationary period for faculty members this week.

Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs members discussed yesterday Hanlon’s proposal, which would change Regent Bylaw 5.09 by lengthening the maximum tenure probationary period University schools and colleges can choose for faculty from eight years to 10 years.

SACUA Chair Ed Rothman, a professor of statistics, said at yesterday's discussion that he agrees with Hanlon’s suggestion to give faculty more decision-making power, but disagrees with Hanlon’s proposal to change the bylaw.

Rothman and Gina Poe, SACUA vice chair and associate professor of anesthesiology and molecular and integrative physiology in the Medical School, are working on counterproposals that offer short-term and long-term solutions to what they feel are problems with tenure probationary periods.

Rothman and Poe plan to meet with University President Mary Sue Coleman today to talk about their counterproposal. They said yesterday that a draft should be available for faculty distribution this week.

Rothman said he doesn’t think the tenure probationary period should be extended for all faculty members but suggested they be able to opt for an extension on an individual basis without question or penalty from the administration.

However, Rothman said this is only a short-term solution to a larger, long-term problem — ill-defined standards for obtaining tenure. Rothman said externally generated standards, like publishing requirements for faculty members, diminish quality of work. He said tenure should be determined by internally generated standards like peer reviews of faculty members’ performances.

“Long-term, I think what we need to do is come up with a standard that we have control over,” Rothman said.

He added that since faculty members have no control over fluctuations in the economy, tenure shouldn’t be determined by economically-driven factors such as obtaining research grants or publishing materials.

According to an e-mail Hanlon sent to faculty members on Friday, the proposal was made available for public comment yesterday. The SACUA members present at yesterday’s discussion agreed that public commentary is important for moving forward with changes to tenure standards.

“It is really important for faculty to respond to the provost’s call for comments,” Poe said.

In the e-mail, Hanlon wrote that he hopes to bring the proposal to the University Board of Regents for a vote this spring.

If the regents vote in favor of the proposal to change the bylaw, it wouldn’t alter the ability of the governing faculty at any school or college to decide to change the tenure probationary period in any school or college.

Medical School faculty members spoke in favor of the proposal at the regents’ monthly meeting last Thursday. The Medical School, Ross School of Business, School of Dentistry, School of Education and Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning are the only schools and colleges that currently use the full eight years for tenure probationary periods.

Rothman said yesterday that Medical School faculty members are in favor of changing the bylaw because they lack the time needed to meet requirements for tenure.

“I contend that that’s not a problem — that’s the symptom of a problem,” Rothman said. “The symptom of the problem is what’s being treated with the changing of 5.09.”

Poe and Rothman’s short-term solutions would allow each faculty member to choose to extend his or her tenure probationary period twice for reasons like pregnancy or illness.

Rothman said lengthening the period for all faculty members would be a disservice to many because not making tenure after 10 years could damage to a career or delay their plans to raise a family.

“Waiting 10 years is cruel and unusual punishment,” Rothman said.

Kim Kearfott, SACUA member and Engineering professor, said Poe’s counterproposal could help all faculty members.

“The idea of transparent and ubiquitously applicable, flexible tenure clock stoppage — a policy like that — is something that is potentially beneficial to everyone across the campus,” Kearfott said.

Poe said she thinks other universities will follow suit if the changes suggested in her counterproposal are implemented.

However, Rothman said the University should be concerned with maintaining standards of excellence and attracting new faculty in lieu of the imminent retirement of many baby-boomers.

“We should be worried about getting new faculty,” Rothman said.