December 14, 1998

Tenure revisions provoke questions

by Josh Renaud
staff assistant

Concerned members of the University senate asked numerous questions about the recent tenure policy revision during Tuesday's meeting.

R. Rocco Cottone, chair of the senate Appointments, Tenure, and Promotion Committee presented a report detailing why the changes were necessary, the possible consequences of the changes, and what might happen in the future.

In the report, Cottone explained that the ATP Committee had been examining various "guiding documents" earlier in the year. During that process, it was discovered that the Faculty Handbook was out-of-date and was inconsistent with the most recent system-wide policy on tenure. An executive order issued in 1992 changed part of the policy. Jack Nelson, vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, revised the current campus procedures to line up with the system policy, incorporated some changes suggested by the ATP Committee, and then presented the revised guidelines to the senate at its Nov. 3 meeting.

When the floor was opened for questions, many members wanted to know how the campus could have gone six years without knowing the tenure policy had been changed and how a similar problem could be avoided in the future.

"There was a failure here," Cottone answered. "Where did it happen? Was it the system? We might ask Dr. Nelson to try and do a search backwards to find out where there was a breakdown in communication so that we can be sure it doesn't happen again. The fact of the matter is we found it, it's university policy, and now the question is how do we deal with it?"

William Connett, professor of mathematics, disagreed that the focus should be solely on the future. He said it was important to look back and see if the decision was made with or without faculty input.

"If tenure was changed without faculty involvement," he said after the meeting, "then I would like to know so I can organize some sort of protest. But if this was some sort of misunderstanding, then there is no need to protest. That's why I want to know how this decision came about."

Some members wanted the Interfaculty Council to approach UM System President Manuel Pacheco and try to have the executive order changed or open a discussion about involving faculty in future tenure decisions.

"I think the Interfaculty Council could bring this up," Connett said after the meeting. "How is it that a basic change was made in tenure rules and we never knew about it; without ever discussing it? Let's bring this to Pacheco and discuss this. I would hope they could get a consensus on the four campuses that changes in tenure should at least be discussed with faculty, and the faculty should be informed when changes are made. Who would argue with that?"

"[The IFC representatives] discussed whether or not this was the appropriate time to bring anything forward to the Interfaculty Council, and we realized we have nothing to bring forward," said Jeanne Zarucchi, one of three IFC representatives. "It would not be productive discussion, in our view, to say we don't like this and we think it should be changed [without] a proposal to substitute for it."

Zarucchi and Cottone both encouraged faculty members to communicate with the ATP Committee any changes, revisions or concerns they might have, so that a substitute plan might be assembled.

"We invite people to discuss this," Zarucchi said. "Given that the ATP Committee has expressed its willingness to accept this responsibility, that's the direction to go to see if our campus can come up with a revision."

This article was reprinted with permission from The Current.

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