SACUA votes to endorse resolution regarding unfair demotions of University faculty

Monday, January 9, 2017 - 7:28pm

The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs discusses a resolution at their weekly meeting in the Fleming Administration Building on Monday.

The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs discusses a resolution at their weekly meeting in the Fleming Administration Building on Monday. Buy this photo
Claire Meingast/Daily

The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs had their first meeting of the winter semester on Monday to discuss the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee resolution to protect faculty from unfair demotions.

The committee discussed whether it should endorse the AAAC’s resolution regarding salary cuts and demotions of tenured and tenure-track professors. This resolution was written in response to a tenured professor receiving a notice from their department chair that their salary was being reduced by 10 percent. Those in attendance did not give any identifying details about this incident.

According to Dan Sharphorn, the former Deputy General Counsel of the University of Michigan, it is legally acceptable to reduce a professor’s salary by 10 percent each year for a certain amount of years or 30 percent overall. 

However, most issues involving salary reductions are problematic because they do not follow due process, said SACUA member John Lehman, who is also a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

He and the other AAAC members drafted a resolution that they will present to the Senate Assembly — the governing body of the University which represents the interests and concerns of faculty — at its meeting on Jan. 23. The resolution calls for the enforcement of due process in situations where salary is lowered.

The AAAC is a committee of the Senate Assembly, while SACUA is its executive branch.

“The AAAC is not comfortable with these actions that have been taken,” Lehman said. “What we are saying is that the Senate Assembly hereby declares that any reduction to an individual faculty member’s base academic salary constitutes a demotion, and entitles the affected faculty member to all of due process provisions … We’re not saying you can’t do it, you just have to follow the bylaws.”

After Lehman’s presentation of the resolution, the SACUA members moved into a discussion of whether or not they would endorse the resolution for the Senate Assembly, attempting to find the boundaries of what constitutes a demotion.

SACUA Vice Chair Dave Wright, a Business School professor, said there was a key flaw in the recommendation. He was concerned with how the resolution dealt with scenarios where teaching responsibilities were increased but salary was not.

“There’s another way to reduce someone’s salary effectively, which is to say that the base is still the same but your teaching load is (increased),” Wright said. “This wouldn’t catch that.”

This sparked some debate within the committee, as SACUA member David Smith, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences, disagreed with Wright’s comment. He felt that increasing a professor’s teaching load is an acceptable course of action for a department to take, and does not count as a demotion.

“I think it’s legal to give people more responsibilities with service or teaching, if, say, their research falls down,” Smith said. “What (the unwarranted salary decreases) seem a clear attempt to do, at least to me, is to bypass (the bylaw) and make it uncomfortable in a financial sense for the person to want to remain at the University.”

Committee member Silke-Maria Weineck, professor of German studies and comparative literature, disagreed with Smith’s notion that teaching responsibilities could be increased to substitute for lagging research and felt that it in some cases, it could be more harmful than a salary decrease.

“Salary is actually much more fluid than teaching load,” Weineck said. “In some disciplines where you publish more frequently, you can gauge research output more easily, but in the humanities, it’s not so easy to gauge whether someone is doing research.”

Committee member Stefan Szymanski, a Kinesiology professor, said the definition of a demotion may have to be modified. He reasoned that the definition of demotion is a lowering of status and the explanation made by the AAAC does not explicitly cover this or a salary decrease nor does a teaching increase satisfy this definition.

Wright suggested the committee revise the resolution to broaden the definition of demotion and clarify other terms regarding the increase of teaching responsibilities. However, since the resolution was written by the AAAC, the new additions had to be written in a separate resolution, he said. A new resolution was quickly written by Weineck and presented to the committee.

The two resolutions on the table were brought up for vote by the committee. The original proposal to endorse the AAAC’s resolution was passed by SACUA by a vote of 4 to 2.

The later resolution to clarify the definition of demotion failed with a tied vote, but can still be brought up independently at the Senate Assembly meeting.