Monday, during the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs’ first meeting since May, the committee considered a revision of the Fitness for Duty policy initiated by Provost Martha Pollack’s office.
Fitness for Duty is part of the University’s standard practice policies, meant to address situations in which a faculty member is unable to perform his or her duties.
SACUA Chair Scott Masten said this issue is likely to be the largest they face in the coming year. He raised concerns with administration’s changes, specifically the elimination of language referencing medical or psychological issues, and emphasized that the University’s amended policy is unnecessarily at odds with what is considered standard in other universities.
“It is very easy to find statements from other universities that use medical statements,” Masten said. “It’s one thing if somebody has an independent medical evaluation, but it’s another thing to say, ‘Oh, your knowledge is obsolete, you are no longer fit to teach.’ It just opens up all of these other concerns. Or even ideologically unfit. There is no requirement at all of a medical evaluation, it’s only on request.”
Along with the removal of references to psychological or medical issues, the lack of protection of compensation during the review period was also a concern for SACUA. Masten said the committee received a memo from the office of the Provost stating they were not willing to accept an amendment ensuring faculty members would get compensation throughout the evaluation process, a suggested amendment by SACUA.
Rex Holland, a SACUA member from the School of Dentistry, said he believes there is a lack of protection for faculty.
“You’ve still got the same rank and position, but you don’t do your job and you don’t get paid,” Holland said.
Fitness for Duty has some similarities to the University’s 509 termination policy, which applies to permanent, often mid-career, resignations.
“It is not a permanent termination so it is not clear to me why the protection would be lesser than a permanent termination as in 509,” Masten said. “A faculty member could be without compensation for a long time, but the university could not possibly bear that burden.”
Masten said he believes the administration would argue a person is not being demoted or dismissed, so technically the protections included in the 509 policy do not apply.
Fitness for Duty also addresses exceptional cases in which a faculty member would be relieved from his or her duties if their behavior or actions jeopardize the reputation of the University. At the end of their discussion, SACUA concluded the policy is vague and does not address a multitude of situations and concerns that may arise.
The next step for SACUA will be to send a memo to the Provost requesting more clarity in the language of the revision, and to address concerns with further explanation for the administration’s revisions.
“If the language isn’t ironclad — and when we get to executive session I can give more specific examples — but if the language isn’t ironclad, it can be abused,” Masten said.
SACUA members said they planned to take further action by involving several committees, including the Civil Liberties Committee and the Tenure Committee.
They then entered into an executive session to discuss in more detail their upcoming strategy going forward with their Fitness for Duty recommendation.