Proposed changes to tenure bylaws include refusal of severance pay in cases of alleged misconduct

Monday, April 13, 2020 - 2:27pm

The University announces proposed tenure changes that could refuse severance pay in cases of misconduct Monday.

The University announces proposed tenure changes that could refuse severance pay in cases of misconduct Monday. Buy this photo
Olivia Cell/Daily

The University of Michigan announced recommended changes to policies for handling the dismissal of tenured faculty members on Monday, more than six months after a tenure bylaw working group comprised of nine faculty members was formed to discuss these recommendations. These changes impact Regents’ Bylaws 5.09 and 5.10, which deal with procedures for dismissing tenured faculty accused of crimes or misconduct, in addition to severance pay policies.

Changes to the bylaws include creating one streamlined process for cases referred to the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, forming a new SACUA Standing Judicial Committee and Hearing Committee of tenured faculty and implementing a policy that suspends a faculty member’s pay during the investigation if they were accused of a felony involving violence, among other revisions. 

The group also recommended the University not provide severance pay to tenured faculty members accused of “moral turpitude” or misconduct.

In a statement, Susan Collins, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, reiterated the University’s commitment to protecting the institution of tenure and mentioned the need to account for unusual circumstances requiring the dismissal of tenured faculty.

“The academic freedom granted by tenure is at the core of everything we do at the University of Michigan,” Collins told The University Record. “However, there are some situations, though rare, that rightfully fall outside of tenure’s protections.”

The Board of Regents is scheduled to discuss and vote on these revisions at their upcoming meeting on May 21.

In an email to The Daily, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said the changes are a result of work done by the faculty working group. 

“This recommendation is largely the work of a group of faculty members, appointed by the provosts on all three campuses,” Fitzgerald said.

The announcement of the changes to Bylaws 5.09 and 5.10 comes after the Board of Regents voted to fire School of Music, Theatre & Dance Professor David Daniels for sexual misconduct on March 26. Daniels had been on leave from the University since August 2018 after allegations of sexual misconduct were made public. The University started the process of formally firing him in July 2019.

Before recommending these changes, the faculty tenure bylaw working group held five town hall meetings to discuss the proposed revisions and gather input from the University community. At the meeting on Feb. 3, Sharon Glotzer, professor and chair of Chemical Engineering and chair of the faculty working group, said the bylaws under question were obsolete and required some revision to reflect modern-day standards. 

“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.”

Provost Martin Philbert was removed from his administrative role at the University last month following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. While an investigation into his conduct is being undertaken by the law firm WilmerHale, Philbert retains his tenured position, according to a March 11 statement from Fitzgerald. 

“Once it is complete, a determination will be made whether Philbert will be subject to proceedings to remove him from his faculty role,” the statement reads. “Meanwhile, Philbert will remain on paid administrative leave from his duties as a tenured faculty member.”

Daily News Editor Liat Weinstein can be reached at weinsl@umich.edu.