you might want to read your school’s tenure policy

There has been a great deal of publicity about the change in the tenure policy at the University of Wisconsin. It is a big change, but what very few people have recognized is that the nature of the change is moving Wisconsin from the best tenure policy in the nation to a tenure policy that is comparable to or slightly better than most other public universities and substantially better than most private universities. All universities reserve the right to lay off tenured faculty in financial emergencies and nearly all reserve the right to lay off tenured faculty when they close departments for “programmatic reasons.” Typical language states that the university should try to find a position for the person in another unit for which they are qualified, but does not generally guarantee that such a position will be found. Public schools generally have more steps through which they must go before closing departments and laying off tenured faculty; private schools typically say deans can just do it if they want to. Typically you have to work hard to actually find your campus’s tenure policy but you might want to go look. We have one faculty member who flamboyantly resigned saying “tenure is dead,” but the actual tenure policy at the school that person is moving to looks very similar to the new policy at Wisconsin.

Author: olderwoman

I'm a sociology professor but not only a sociology professor. It isn't hard to figure out my real name if you want to, but I keep it out of this blog because I don't want my name associated with it in a Google search. Although I never write anything in a public forum like a blog that I'd be ashamed to have associated with my name (and you shouldn't either!), it is illegal for me to use my position as a public employee to advance my religious or political views, and the pseudonym helps to preserve the distinction between my public and private identities. The pseudonym also helps to protect the people I may write about in describing public or semi-public events I've been involved with.

8 thoughts on “you might want to read your school’s tenure policy”

  1. UMD: ” In fulfilling their educational roles and missions, the
    constituent institutions of the University of Maryland System
    must make optimal use of their faculty resources. Optimum
    utilization may call for a reduction in or a reallocation of
    faculty at various times and for various reasons; e.g. shifting
    enrollment patterns, changing program directions, restricted
    funding. If reassignment and/or reallocation is inadequate to
    effect such changes, an institution may find it necessary to
    terminate the appointment of tenure-track or tenured faculty
    members.”

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      1. Actually replying to Philip here, but his post had no reply button. Philip: that’s the key. Finding and understanding that document is critical. If it is reflective of true shared governance, that policy will likely require assent of one or more school or university level academic planning committees to advance. Weakening shared governance (which was also done in Wisconsin Act 55) is the key to weakening tenure. Our Board of Regents explicitly nullified UW-Madison’s governance policy on program closure making it no longer required for our university APC to approve. Tenure and shared governance are like lock and key.

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  2. Regarding the faculty member you mention. I believe you are not taking into account that the university to which she has transferred has a strong union and a collective bargaining agreement that imposes additional conditions on actual layoff (as well as the possibility of collective labor actions if the agreement is abused or circumvented). So while the wording of the tenure policy may look familiar, their policy is in fact much much stronger. In fact, if you look carefully at the policies of our peer institutions, many are constrained by collective bargaining. Others have language that our Board of Regents specifically rejected in its March meeting – including language requiring that academic quality take priority over any financial considerations; that all alternatives to layoff must be “pursued” or “exhausted” prior to layoff (as opposed to being merely considered). The Regents’ tenure policy task force cherry-picked weak provisions from each of our peers in crafting our document. All that being said, yes — I have found other state public university systems with weak tenure policy. Elite private institutions tend to have very strong tenure; some non-elite private schools barely have tenure at all. But perhaps the most important thing moving forward is that we went from having true faculty-led shared governance to having faculty be merely advisory on academic policy. The way the whole sham of a tenure policy task force process evolved is testament to that.

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  3. Worth adding to Dave Vanness’ comment that faculty members of the Regents Tenure Task Force objected to the final draft, and proposed changes to the document which were rejected by the Regents Education Committee.

    A key provision of Act 55 to which Dave indirectly refers when he says that faculty are now merely advisory to the Chancellor on decisions regarding academic programming, is that faculty governance committee decisions are not merely “subject to” the assent of the Chancellor, but that faculty are “subordinate to” the Chancellor. The distinctive, genuine shared governance – shared authority – we enjoyed, which produced enormous attachment to, and dedication on behalf of, the institution, is no more.

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  4. I agree about the importance of shared governance and the actual state of who controls what. These are real issues. My post is about reminding people at other places that these issues are everywhere. Wisconsin is joining the pack from a position in front, it has not fallen behind the pack.These are losses and I honor the people who have been fighting against them. But I disagree with the people who think they can avoid these problems by moving to other institutions.

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  5. Over the course of my career, it has become more and more clear that strong unions are worth much more than tenure policies. The “best” tenure policy in the world is not worth the paper it is printed on without a mechanism for enforcing its procedural protections; unions provide this protection and ensure that the policies themselves are strong.

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