University Senate in favor of new tenure-clock pause plan

Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 22, 2011

While University Senate meetings are usually cut-and-dry affairs, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room when Robert Salmond, an assistant professor of political science, spoke about his daughter who passed away last month.

Salmond explained to the group of about 120 members — comprised of University professorial faculty, librarians, full-time research faculty, deans and executive officers of the University — how his situation after his daughter’s death wasn’t accounted for under the University’s tenure-clock policy.

“Currently, there is no flexibility for that set of circumstances, which I (admit) were beyond my control, to be taken account of in my tenure clock,” Salmond said.

In recent months, the tenure clock, which is the window of time when a faculty member can be granted tenure, has been a source of contention between University administrators and faculty members. At its meeting Monday afternoon, the University Senate voted on several action items regarding proposed changes to the University’s tenure policy.

The University Senate voted 83-35 to endorse a proposed amendment to the Standard Practice Guide. This would allow faculty members a two-year hiatus on their tenure clock while also expanding permissible reasons for such stoppages. Currently, the University only allows a one-year halt on the clock.

Salmond said he told his story to the University Senate to highlight the importance of supporting the proposed amendment.

As Salmond explained, the loss of his daughter placed him in a difficult situation that he felt warranted special consideration from the University. He added that there should be increased understanding on the part of the University regarding circumstances that are beyond an employee’s control.

Three other action items regarding the issue of tenure probationary periods were brought before the University Senate at yesterday’s meeting. The group voted 51-66 against an action item that would have allotted more discussion time for University Provost Philip Hanlon’s tenure probationary period proposal, which would allow schools to extend the period of time in which faculty members can be granted tenure status from eight to 10 years.

Physics Prof. Keith Riles said he didn’t support the action item because he wanted the faculty to move on with more specific actions.

James Woolliscroft, dean of the University’s Medical School, said he is in favor of each school being allowed to opt for Hanlon’s tenure proposal on an individual basis. He said extending the tenure probationary period could be important for many employees in the Medical School.

“In the Medical School, our faculty colleagues determine when somebody is ready to be put forward for promotion,” Woolliscroft said during the meeting. “This is done within each department. It is a critical process.”

The University Senate members also voted against another action, which would have allowed individual faculty members to pause their tenure clock for a one-year period without need for University approval. Faculty members would have been able to exercise this option twice, the time of which they would choose themselves.

University Senate members motioned to add a fourth action item, which declared the Senate Assembly’s hesitance about making any changes to the University’s Board of Regents’ bylaws concerning tenure. A similar measure was passed in January. The members endorsed this action item with 70 yes votes, 42 no votes and eight abstentions.