The Senate Assembly, the University’s leading faculty governing body, passed two resolutions yesterday voicing its displeasure with a proposal to allow schools and colleges to extend the maximum tenure probationary period.
With the resolutions, the assembly reaffirmed its support for a resolution it passed in 2006 that expressed concern with any potential changes to the regents’ bylaw 5.09 — the University Board of Regents policy that defines the tenure track procedure for faculty. The assembly also articulated its desire that any faculty decisions regarding tenure should only be made by tenure-track faculty — not the faculty as a whole.
The change to the tenure probationary period was brought to the assembly by University Provost Philip Hanlon who spoke at the meeting, but was initially proposed a few years ago by an advisory board that reports to the provost. The modification would result in a nine-year probationary period with one additional terminal year for faculty who don’t make tenure. The University’s current policy, outlined in bylaw 5.09 and established in 1944, allows for a seven-year probationary term with one terminal year.
Though there is a University-wide limit on the tenure probationary period, each school and college within the University establishes its own tenure clock. Few schools actually utilize the full tenure clock, only the Medical School, the School of Dentistry and the Ross School of Business which allow their faculty the full term.
In an interview last week, Hanlon said the Medical School would most likely take advantage of the change. Citing a recent poll of faculty at the Medical School, Hanlon said more than 80 percent of faculty support extending the tenure probationary period.
During the meeting, however, Gina Poe, vice chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, said the poll was misleading, as a majority of the faculty in the Medical School are clinical faculty — not tenured or tenure-track faculty.
SACUA Chair Ed Rothman, a professor of statistics, said though the regents ultimately vote on whether a faculty member should get tenure, only tenured faculty members should be able to make recommendations to the regents.
“Only tenured-track faculty should be eligible to make final decisions (regarding tenure),” Rothman said. “And the reason for this is because, in the Medical School in particular, we tenured and tenure-track faculty are a minority.”
Poe, an associate professor of anesthesiology and molecular and integrative physiology in the Medical School, added that they only had two non-clinical faculty members serve on a 2005 committee that approved of elongating the tenure period at the University.
At the meeting, Poe read aloud several e-mails she received from her colleagues who disapproved of any changes to the tenure probationary period — including one from Pharmacology Prof. Lori Isom, who served on the 2005 committee.
“I still think it’s a bad idea,” Isom wrote in her e-mail to Poe. “Chairs have the option of extending the tenure process for individuals already. In the end, I think that this tenure policy will only serve to up the ante, so to speak, for everyone regarding what is required for tenure and basically turn assistant professors into indentured servants. Working harder for less money and less security.”
According to Rothman, James Wooliscroft, dean of the Medical School, recently told SACUA that all faculty, including clinical faculty, would be involved in making tenure decisions.
In an interview after the meeting, Rothman said that lengthening the tenure probationary period would affect faculty on the clinical track and tenure track differently.
“If you’re a clinician and you don’t get tenure, you stay on and you continue as a clinician,” Rothman said. “You have a job, so they don’t mind that flexibility (in the tenure process). On the other hand, research scientists, people who are just doing basic research…in the Medical School don’t have that opportunity.”
According to Rothman, faculty in the medical school who don’t have a Ph. D. and M.D. “can’t just go on and continue their lives” if they are denied tenure after 10 years.
Hanlon said in an interview with The Michigan Daily last week that he was waiting to see whether the Senate Assembly passed the two resolutions before he made a recommendation to the Board of Regents on how to proceed with the proposal.
It’s unclear how Hanlon will proceed now that the Senate Assembly reaffirmed the 2006 resolution and advocated for only tenure or tenure-track faculty to be responsible for making tenure decisions. Hanlon said last week that he would make his recommendation by the end of the week.
“If my decision is to propose a change, it could be happening as early as (this) week,” Hanlon said.
Rothman said a nearly unanimous vote was necessary to send a message that the faculty was opposed to the change. But if Hanlon proceeds with his recommendation, Rothman said he won’t appeal to the regents.
“I’m not at all happy about opening 5.09 at all,” Rothman said. “The issue of tenure goes back to 1944 here on campus … We’ll have lots of opportunities to have other chairs of this body in the future, but I don’t want to preside over a body that fools around with our only document that guarantees at least an appeal process for tenure or tenure-track faculty. Opening the door is a serious matter.”