Faculty senate town hall discusses revisions to tenure bylaws
Members of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs hosted the faculty tenure bylaw working group at Palmer Commons on Monday. The group, which was established to draft recommendations for potential changes to Regent’s bylaws 5.09 and 5.10, presented to about 50 faculty and staff at a town hall-style meeting.
These two bylaws establish the processes and practices for firing tenured faculty. The bylaw working group aims to make recommendations on potential amendments that are reflective of faculty wishes. The group was formed after Music, Theatre & Dance professor David Daniels was accused of sexual assault in August 2018. Soon after, Daniels was placed on paid leave and the University is still in the process of firing Daniels.
Sharon Glotzer, professor and chair of Chemical Engineering and chair of the faculty working group, explained the specific purposes of Regents bylaws 5.09 and 5.10, as well as the time period in which they were enacted.
“They specify the process by which faculty can be fired or lose tenure and receive one year of compensation, severance, after termination,” Glotzer said. “These bylaws were instituted back in the McCarthy era to ensure strong protections for academic freedom and they were mostly unchanged since they were written back in the ‘50s.”
Glotzer also elaborated on the current system instituted by these bylaws, saying that there is a two-tiered process in place that can be very complex and time-consuming. In this process, two separate trials run alongside one another in cases of charged tenured faculty members.
“Our current bylaws also say that faculty receive full compensation until the 5.09 process concludes with termination, regardless of the aggressiveness of the alleged misconduct,” Glotzer said. “And in most cases terminated faculty members receive a year of severance pay. The issue is that our current 5.09 process has been applied to the type of egregious misconduct that was never meant to be afforded the protections of tenure in the first place.”
The faculty working group received input and feedback from faculty members, lawyers and administrators that had experience with 5.09 cases.
The first proposed change is to eliminate the two-tiered process and create one pathway with a clear timeline that uses deadlines to initiate review processes efficiently. Glotzer said individual hearing committees are selected from a standing committee of members, and she asked for feedback on the two-tiered process.
“One of the ideas that we’re considering is to establish a standing Judicial Committee under SACUA that would be like a tenure and promotion committee,” Glotzer said. “It would be a standing committee from which members of the hearing committee could be chosen.”
Glotzer also said bylaw 5.10, which dictates severance pay policy, does not exclude exceptions for harassment cases and other “non-crimes” that go against University policy. She said she was open to feedback on whether to adopt or eliminate it.
“Our current bylaw 5.10 allows for one-year severance pay after termination, except when prohibited by law based on the character or conduct of the faculty member, when the faculty member is convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanor that involves students or the university or when there is intentional refusal to perform properly assigned academic duties,” Glotzer said.
The committee then opened the floor for questions from the town hall audience and feedback on their proposed changes to the bylaws.
Astronomy professor Sally Oey said she would support SACUA accepting responsibility for review committee appointments.
“I would just ask that SACUA be the entity that does the actual appointment of the committee and that we just specify that that’s it,” Oey said. “That the bylaw itself specifies that SACUA be the responsible party, and that way if the judicial panel doesn’t work and if there are unforeseen things that may be awkward or logistically problematic, those things can be tweaked, but the bylaw itself be something simple and high level.”
Astronomy professor Michael Meyer said he supported eliminating pay suspension before a review process is carried out.
“I understand that there was a consensus to get rid of the suspension of pay before due processes unfolded and I support that, but in this case I don’t think there would be severance, typically for other employees at the University who are terminated for cause,” Meyer said. “I think if the process is good and it’s gone through thoroughly, someone has been fired and they no longer have tenure.”
Jerry Sanders, associate professor of biology at U-M Flint, expressed concern at the ambiguous nature of the current bylaws.
“One thing that I’m concerned about the severance pay suspension and the phrase ‘other non-crimes’, when you’re being very very vague about things, that opens up a whole can of worms,” Sanders said.
Jasmin Lee contributed reporting.
Reporter Hannah Mackay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org