In a document given to The Michigan Daily yesterday, the leading faculty governing body proposed a plan that would allow individual faculty members to add up to two years to their tenure probationary period as a temporary fix to issues with the University’s current tenure system.
This proposal came in response to University Provost Philip Hanlon’s recommendation to amend the University’s Regent Bylaw 5.09 to extend the tenure probationary period.
Statistics Prof. Ed Rothman, chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and SACUA Vice Chair Gina Poe, an associate professor of anesthesiology and molecular and integrative physiology, presented their four-point plan to University President Mary Sue Coleman yesterday afternoon and plan to e-mail the document to members of the University Senate today.
The tenure probationary period is the amount of time faculty members have to obtain tenure, which protects faculty member’s academic freedom by ensuring they can’t be terminated from their position at the University without just cause.
The centerpiece of the SACUA proposal is the “checkbox to stop the clock” method of extending the tenure probationary period. According to the document, an option would be added to faculty members’ annual effort certification page — a federally mandated statement that all faculty and staff must sign to ensure they are performing their work appropriately — allowing them to choose whether or not they want to extend their tenure clock by up to two years.
In an interview last night, Rothman said the option would allow faculty — specifically clinical faculty in the Medical School — who feel rushed by the current eight-year tenure probationary period to extend their clock without impacting other faculty members.
“The idea of a checkbox is simply to alleviate the symptom that’s already evident in parts of the Medical School,” Rothman said. “Those faculty who choose to select that option can do so, and those faculty who don’t want to be subjected to a longer tenure clock don’t need to check that.”
Under the current system, faculty may only extend their tenure period for personal or health reasons upon request. The change proposed by SACUA would, according to the document, simplify the process for extending the tenure clock.
“The automatically approved box also relieves the current problem of judging whether the reasons for freezing the clock are meritorious to a dean or a provost; it need only be meritorious to the faculty affected, allowing anyone to freeze their clock without need of providing sometimes very personal explanations to near strangers (and bosses at that),” SACUA’s proposal reads.
In the document, SACUA acknowledges that the “checkbox to stop the clock” proposal and Hanlon’s original recommendation are merely short-term solutions. The document states that a long-term solution must be reached to ensure that faculty seeking tenure are judged solely on their teaching and scholarly work.
According to the proposal, external issues such as decreases in funding from the National Institutes of Health, changes in the publishing industry and ever-changing family structures coupled with an extended tenure probationary period would add undue pressure to the already strenuous process of obtaining tenure.
“For example, when we blame a change in weather, or conditions of the field for poor performance in baseball, instead of the team’s abilities to adapt to the weather or the field, we are unlikely to be able to make a useful change,” the document states. “How then should we as a faculty preserve what we love about the academy and make a change in the way we conduct our assessment to deal with these ever changing external constraints?”
Rothman said SACUA would be open to amending its proposal if any faculty members have other good ideas on how to deal with the issue.
“We have 3,000 tenured and tenure-track faculty at the University of Michigan and perhaps one or two of them may come up with a great idea,” Rothman said. “So, it’s not as though we’re choosing 5.09 extension or not choosing 5.09 extension regardless of our preference. It’s that here’s a proposal — it’s an alternative to changing 5.09 — and I suspect that there are other proposals and we’d be happy to hear from them.”
Hanlon put his recommendation up for public comment Monday, which is a necessary step for changing any regent bylaw. The proposal will be open for public comment for two weeks. In an e-mail sent to all faculty members Monday, Hanlon wrote that the proposal would come before the regents this spring.
In an interview last night, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said he couldn’t comment about what was said in Coleman’s meeting with Rothman and Poe, but said the University was open to hearing what the faculty had to say on the matter.
“I don’t have anything directly from President Coleman and that meeting,” Fitzgerald said, “but this is the period of public comment, and all of the comments and the responses that are gathered or offered during this time period will be taken into consideration and considered as the provost and the executive officers decide to move ahead with this proposal.”
—Daily News Editor Caitlin Huston and Daily Staff Reporter Kaitlin Williams contributed to this report