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A group of about 30 faculty members, including the nine members of the tenure bylaw working group, gathered in the Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union Thursday to discuss proposed changes to the University of Michigan’s tenure policy.
Due to recent sexual misconduct allegations against Provost Martin A. Philbert, many professors expressed a feeling of urgency about amending these bylaws.
The working group, which is comprised of faculty members from various departments across the three University campuses, was created in October 2019. The group was formed after the School of Music, Theatre & Dance professor David Daniels was accused of sexual assault in August 2018 and placed on paid leave. The University is still in the process of firing Daniels.
Sharon Glotzer, Chemical Engineering department chair, chairs the working group. Glotzer led the discussion, which focused on suggesting a new tenure removal policy in regards to items 5.09 and 5.10 in the regents’ bylaws, which deal with standard procedure in cases of faculty dismissal as well as severance pay.
David Potter, Arthur F. Thurnau professor of Greek and Latin, delivered the opening remarks. Potter said the University created these tenure policies during the McCarthy era to protect professors’ academic and personal freedom.
In addition to calling for the changes to these outdated bylaws, professors and attendees said they hoped the recommendations would be made quickly.
Ella A. Kazerooni, professor of radiology and internal medicine at Michigan Medicine, said she wants to know more about the final outcome of the working group’s recommendations. Kazerooni said she thinks by determining the group’s goals the bylaws can be more efficiently restructured.
“So I think, for me, it’s trying to understand what the goal is,” Kazerooni said. “If the goal is to streamline the process and make the process clearer for everybody, faculty departments, administration, I think that’s a laudable goal and we’d really like to see that happen.”
The working group suggested that, in the case of tenured faculty removal, two separate trials could run in conjunction with one another. They proposed having two separate groups of professors who have no contact with one another in order to guarantee a more fair trial for the professor being tried.
Astronomy professor Sally Oey said she felt two trials would not only diminish the quality of the examination but would lead to confusion for all parties.
“I think one of the most problematic things is the fact that they want to try to run two consecutive hearings that are right in parallel with each other for the faculty member who’s been charged,” Oey said.
The group proposed allowing the University to terminate the pay of tenured faculty members charged with “manifestly egregious misconduct” who are placed on administrative leave. They also discussed how a committee would be able to justify taking a professor off tenure and withholding pay.
“The pay suspension is created by acts that are ‘manifestly egregious misconduct’ beyond the standard process,” Potter said.
Glotzer said pay removal would be a very rare situation reserved for only the highest levels of misconduct. Bruce Maxim, Engineering professor at U-M Dearborn and member of the faculty working group, said the two-trial process is supposed to place power in the hands of faculty.
“From my perspective, we do not want this to be an administrative driven process (where) the administrators call the shots,” Maxim said. “If four of the five faculty members on there do not agree with (the claim), guess what? It’s not egregious and the report will say, ‘Sorry, President Schlissel, we don’t think this is ‘manifestly egregious.’ Schlissel may decide that he doesn’t care and may decide to continue to withdraw pay, but at least the faculty had a chance to object and say, ‘No, we don’t want to see this happen.’”
Psychology professor Twila Tardif, a member of the faculty tenure working group, addressed issues with the language in bylaws 5.09 and 5.10. Twila said though the language is ambiguous, other universities have tried to use language that reflects how the misconduct impacts the community.
“I completely agree that ‘manifestly egregious conduct’ is very difficult to define,” Twila said. “… However, it can be misinterpreted. The 30 or so other institutions we’ve looked at, one of the things we’re doing is trying to look at and see: How have people identified this?”
Glotzer said though the faculty is being given the opportunity to provide their own suggestions, the Board of Regents can change this bylaw without their input. She said more discussions will be held regarding the possible pay suspension policy and hopes people will be devoted to determining the outcome of this issue.
“These are the Regents’ bylaws and they can change those bylaws whether we want them to or not,” Glotzer said. “So we’re being given an opportunity, and in this room too, to provide feedback on what that process ought to look like.”
Reporter Jenna Siteman can be reached at email@example.com