University forms working group to discuss changes to tenure bylaws

Wednesday, October 9, 2019 - 8:23pm

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Design by Christine Jegarl

This month, the University of Michigan announced the creation of a faculty working group dedicated to recommending revisions to two Regents bylaws addressing the dismissal of tenured faculty. The two bylaws include the University’s standard procedure in cases of faculty dismissal, as well as severance pay. 

The announcement of the working group comes after School of Music, Theatre & Dance Professor David Daniels was accused of sexual assault by Samuel Schultz in August 2018. Just a few months later, Andrew Lipian, another former student of Daniels’s, filed a lawsuit claiming he was sexually assaulted by Daniels in March 2017. In July of this year, the University began the process of firing Daniels, who was placed on paid leave after Schultz’s allegations were made public. A Michigan Daily investigation found the University knew about Daniels’s behavior in 2018 but still awarded him with tenure that same year.

Daniels’s case, which is still ongoing, sparked conversations about how the University should respond to allegations of misconduct when the professor in question has received tenure. Daniels made tenure on May 17, 2018, just a few months before the accusations were revealed to the public.

The committee is composed of nine faculty members across the three University campuses and is chaired by Sharon Glotzer, department chair of chemical engineering and professor in the College of Engineering. The group is tasked with reviewing the University’s policies in relation to peer institutions and will recommend revisions to the two bylaws. One bylaw, which states the termination of a tenured faculty’s appointment can be initiated by the provost or executive vice provost, was last revised in 2011. 

According to the University Record, the first deadline for recommending revisions to University President Mark Schlissel is Nov. 15 and the second is Feb. 28, 2020. 

Information professor Kentaro Toyama is one of the faculty members in the working group. Toyama explained how the group works. 

“Our involvement is basically thinking through what the key principles are and the values we want to uphold in that process are, especially with regard to tenure,” Toyama said. “But (we’re) also thinking about the responsible use of public resources for people who do end up going through that process.”

Toyama said even though the two bylaws under review are rarely put into practice, they can be invoked in serious cases such as Daniels’s. Toyama also mentioned how the current bylaws require the University to continue paying all tenured faculty members, even if they are in the process of being dismissed or are on leave. 

“The faculty member in question committed fairly egregious crimes, outright crimes, for which the evidence seems overwhelmingly against the person,” Toyama said. “The unfortunate situation is despite the fact that most people probably would agree that they are guilty of the crime, that because of the way that 5.09 and 5.10 are currently worded, the University is required to continue compensating them and providing benefits for them.”

LSA sophomore Emma Sandberg was part of a group of students that contacted the ACLU of Michigan in February about the University’s interim Title IX policy. Sandberg echoed Toyama’s statement and said the process for firing Daniels, which is currently in its second year, has taken much longer than it should have due to the severity of Daniels’s crimes. 

“Currently, the process of firing a tenured professor is far too lengthy, especially in cases where that professor has committed sexual assault,” Sandberg said. “What I’m hoping is that this working group was created due to the David Daniels case … In that case, it was crazy to me how slow everything took.”

Sandberg said the University should no longer pay tenured faculty who have committed crimes or are under investigation.

“As a survivor, the thought that my tuition is, in part, going to a rapist helping to pay his legal fees is really upsetting,” Sandberg said. “So, I’m glad to hear that this working group was created, and I do hope that the reason for this is to address this issue, and I also hope that other schools will address this issue before it’s a problem at their schools, because the University of Michigan should have fixed this years ago.”

On Monday, Provost Martin Philbert joined the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs to announce the creation of the working group. Philbert stressed the University will do everything it can to protect the institution of tenure, but will also work to amend bylaws that no longer serve the community effectively. 

“Over time, the principle of academic freedom has become intertwined with pay,” Philbert said at the SACUA meeting. “And we fast forward to today, and 5.09 and 5.10 do not serve us well with some of the difficult issues that we’re facing with a vanishingly small but significant minority of our faculty, and those two bylaws were never intended to protect the kind of bad behavior that none of us would ever defend.”

When contacted by The Daily about why the University formed the working group, University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen stated she had nothing more to add. 

Sandberg said she hoped the new working group would help speed up the process of dismissing faculty accused of misconduct, especially if that faculty member has received tenure. 

“There is no question at this point that (Daniels) is guilty of serious sexual misconduct, so the fact that he still hasn’t been fired is getting concerning,” Sandberg said. “If you look at other universities, a lot of other universities have the same problem where they have tenured professors who have committed sexual assault, and it takes over a year for those professors to be fired. I think that when a person, whether they be a student or a tenured faculty, is accused of sexual misconduct, it is critical that they are both investigated expeditiously.”