Senate Assembly votes for faculty demotion resolution, hears from Provost

SACUA chair William Schultz watches as Provost Martha Pollack opens a gift from the Faculty Senate Assembly in commemoration of Pollack's service to the University at Palmer Commons on Monday.

SACUA chair William Schultz watches as Provost Martha Pollack opens a gift from the Faculty Senate Assembly in commemoration of Pollack's service to the University at Palmer Commons on Monday. Buy this photo
Matt Vailliencourt/Daily

 

Monday, January 23, 2017 - 7:12pm

Members of the University of Michigan’s Senate Assembly passed a resolution on Monday brought forth by the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee regarding salary cuts as a way to demote faculty. The meeting was also a chance for the assembly to hear last remarks from outgoing Provost Martha Pollack and initial remarks from incoming Interim Provost Paul Courant, a public policy professor.

The faculty began the meeting by taking a closer look at the AAAC resolution written in December, which condemns the University for effectively demoting faculty members by cutting their salaries without due process and calls for this to change.

The AAAC, after being notified of several cases of these incidents at the University, decided any reduction of a tenured faculty member’s salary qualifies as a demotion, and entitles the member to the due processes the Board of Regents bylaw outlines. None of the cases were specified, but it was noted that this problem was most common in the Schools of Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy.

The Regents’ Bylaw 5.09 outlines the due process procedure for dismissal or demotion, but the assembly argued the document does not specify what is considered a demotion.

John Lehman, a Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs member and professor of biology, presented the resolution to the Senate Assembly and urged them to vote in favor of it. He mentioned that SACUA members had debated the resolution during their last meeting, and decided to keep the resolution’s definition of demotion to only a pay cut to limit technicalities and confusion.

“We know well that there are other methods invoked by unit administrators that some of you might regard as constructive demotions,” Lehman said. “Assigning punitive teaching roles … moving office space, and so on … But in each of those cases, a value judgment would have to be made regarding whether or not a demotion had occurred. We chose to keep the resolution short and simple, rather than to anticipate all the hypothetical abuses that could be imposed. I urge you to adopt this resolution as offered.”

Lehman then offered to answer questions the Senate Assembly may have. John Ellis, a history professor at UM-Flint, asked whether or not the resolution would apply to the Flint and Dearborn campuses as well. Lehman and SACUA President Bill Schultz determined it would.

A vote was then held on the resolution, and it passed with no votes against and only one abstention.

Following the vote, Provost Martha Pollack took the floor and began her farewell address to the assembly by sharing her opinions on the AAAC resolution. Pollack felt, contrary to the assembly, a pay cut did not necessarily mean a demotion and the resolution would be harmful to tenured professors.

“In my view, performance is tied to salary,” Pollack said. “When there is persistent underperformance, that would be followed up by a negative salary increment … I think it’s risky at this moment to equate underperformance with demotion and the withdrawal of tenure. We’re at a moment in society where tenure is being attacked.”

Pollack, who will begin her position as president of Cornell University in April, then transitioned into her parting remarks to the assembly. She thanked the faculty for all their hard work as she spoke about her pride for the University over her 16 years on staff.

“This is a really extraordinary institution,” Pollack said. “I’ve been reflecting on why, and of course, it’s the people — universities are nothing more than people — but it’s also the culture that the people at the University of Michigan create … It’s corny, but we use this phrase ‘Leaders and Best,’ and people take it seriously. When you’re working with someone else in another field, you know they’re going to be the best, and I think that’s something we need to celebrate and remember.”

Pollack also cautioned the group about what she felt were the two biggest challenges facing the University, and higher education in general, moving forward. She first stressed the importance of making sure the University stays affordable to students, in the face of decreasing state funding and rising institutional costs, which she referred to as “the cost disease.”

“The question I always get asked by the public, which is the wrong question, is ‘Why does tuition increase every year?’ ” Pollack said. “The right question is, ‘Why is tuition going up faster than inflation every year?’ Really, the two big (reasons for this) are declining state support and the cost disease. We know the causes, but we still have to find the solutions … My plea to all of you is that you take this seriously and work on this with us.”

The second challenge the University faces, and the one Pollack said concerns her the most, is how to stay relevant in a time when people are questioning the value of the very concept of college.

“It’s really critical that we figure out ways to address this, and I think that means demonstrating our relevance,” Pollack said. “We need to take the time to tell the story — more than we ever have — why (we’re) so important.”

After Pollack’s speech, Interim Provost Paul Courant spoke to the assembly and relayed his excitement to be stepping into the provost role once again. Courant was the University provost from 2002 to 2005 and will act as interim provost when Pollack steps down at the end of this month. During his address, Courant echoed Pollack’s remarks about staying relevant in a changing world.

“We have to persuade better the world around us that what we do is really of extraordinary value to society,” Courant said. “We should stick with excellence and collaboration; it’s what we’re good at, and what constitutes the essence of the secret sauce that makes this a great institution.”

The Senate Assembly concluded the meeting by thanking both Pollack and Courant for their commitment to the University and faculty governance. SACUA President Bill Schultz presented Pollack with a parting gift from the assembly: a picture frame and a scarf in “Cornellian red.”