Defending Tenure at the University
Professor Charles J. Parrish
President, AAUP-AFT Local 6075
For two decades the Union has been faced in contract negotiations by Administration demands related to tenure. These ranged from modest proposals for post-tenure review to an outrageous demand from the Gilmore Administration that would have allowed a dean to identify a faculty member, charge her/him, and have an appeal heard that day and fire her/him the next day. The Union would have had no role in the process until after the faculty member had been fired. Obviously, that proposal went nowhere after there was a hue and cry raised well beyond the University that included a national petition against that proposal.
Over that series of contract negotiations on the tenure issue, the Union responded with proposals to modify the terms of Article XXIV of the Agreement. The purpose of Article XXIV has been to deal with several issues, for example, workload. In a complex research university, workloads vary across the disciplines depending on the mix of research, teaching, and service expected of their members. Article XXIV states that “the duties of faculty shall reasonable and fair …” and it also recognizes that the duties of faculty will vary over the professional life of a faculty member as her or his responsibilities change over time. It states: “Greater proportions of time, energy, and creativity will be manifested in one or another of the faculty member’s areas of responsibility at different stages in an individual’s career’s trajectory.” Workload duties are purposely not very specific because of a reluctance to set firm standards that may apply in some departments and not in others.
In addition, Article XXIV deals with rewarding “excellent performance” and, also, “to identify and remedy longtime performance substantially below disciplinary norms and departmental factors of tenured faculty.” Article XXIV provides for mentoring tenured faculty members who are identified as falling below these norms. The departmental salary committees have the responsibility to identify faculty members whose performance is below norms, to recommend such faculty to the Administration for mentoring. The chair of each department is the chair of its salary committees.
Article XXIV specifies the mentoring process. Once a candidate for mentoring is identified, a mentoring committee is established, with one member identified by the salary committee, a second member chosen by the Administration and a third picked by the targeted faculty member. The mentoring process may last for up to three years. If there is insufficient progress in the view of the committee annually, or at the end of the process, then the salary committee may refer the matter to the departmental chair for “whatever action s/he chooses to take consistent with the terms of this Agreement and the Board of Governors statutes.”
The Union’s position has been that this mentoring process would be followed before any action to take a faculty member’s tenure would be initiated. When the Administration ignored this and began sending letters to over 40 members of the School of Medicine faculty threatening them with de-tenuring, the Union filed a grievance in the matter, asking the Arbitrator to support the Union’s position that the mentoring process would have to be followed before the de-tenuring process could be invoked.
In due course, after a hearing, the Arbitrator came down with a ruling that was the one of the least competent in my long experience as a Union leader. The decision showed that the Arbitrator had a very limited understanding of the operation of a research university. Both the Administration and the Union suffer
ed significant losses in the decision. The decision was in three parts, in which the Arbitrator:
1. Denied that the Administration had to go through the procedures in Article XXIV before initiating the de-tenuring of a faculty member;
2. Decided that there could be no mentoring in the University outside of the procedures elaborated in Article XXIV; and
3. Denied that the provisions of the Board of Governors Statute 251.01 are incorporated into the Collective Bargaining Agreement under the provisions of Article VII, even though that article states that this statute cannot be changed without the agreement of the Union.
The latter issue, that particular BOG Statutes were read into the collective bargaining agreement, was never part of the grievance filed by the Union. It was brought up by the Administration and should have been, in our view, ignored. The Arbitrator decided that the provisions were not read into the agreement, despite testimony from Administration officials that they were so viewed. In any case, as long as none of the BOG statutes referenced in Article VII can be changed without the agreement of the Union the Arbitrator’s decision is irrelevant.
In denying that the Administration did not have to go through the mentoring procedures in Article XXIV before initiating a tenure revocation procedure, the Arbitrator made an uninformed decision that ignored bargaining history. The confused decision by the Arbitrator left us with a situation that was unworkable. The Union sought a check on the Administration’s unfettered and unilateral ability to start the de-tenuring process and the Administration (and the Union) wanted mentoring go on in the departments as it has in the past.
With both sides recognizing the shortcomings of the Arbitrator’s decision, we entered into negotiations that culminated in the agreements attached. This negotiation that took place primarily between President Wilson and myself, complicated by intermediaries on the Administration side. We came to an early agreement, in principle, to devise some sort of peer review as a check on an Administrator initiating the de-tenuring process. However, coming to a final agreement on how it would work was difficult. The final agreement is a somewhat awkward procedure involving a consultative committee assembled through a random drawing of three persons from the University Promotion and Tenure Committee. These individuals review the case before the Administration can proceed with it. Further, we also agreed on the continuation of faculty mentoring in the departments in the manner that it has been carried out in the past.
“An Injustice to One is an Injustice to All”
The Board of Governors statutes offers this definition: “Tenure is a means to certain ends; specifically: (1) Academic freedom and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability. The Board recognizes that tenure is indispensable to the success of this institution in fulfilling its obligations to its students and to society.” This concept is the bedrock on which academic tenure is built in its various manifestations throughout our colleges and universities. Without tenure, academic freedom in these institutions is inevitably compromised.
The financial crisis in the School of Medicine (SoM) has threatened the entire system of tenure at the University. The financial problems of the SoM were the largely the responsibility of the School’s past administrative leadership and that of the University. The situation in privatizing the Detroit Medical Center brought the SoM financial problems to a head. The reaction of President Wilson was to bring in a new team of health care administrators.
Shortly after these administrators were appointed, a principal focus of their analysis was the SoM faculty who were seen as being “unproductive.” The standard for unproductivity of faculty was whether or not a substantial portion of their salary was defrayed by grants. It was asserted that in other Schools of Medicine, paying 40% of salary was the appropriate standard (this was disputed by SoM faculty leaders). There were statements from the SoM that as many as 80 faculty members were unproductive and needed to be separated from the University. This number was gradually revised downward and ended with letters being sent to some 43 faculty members that threatened their tenure. Ultimately, with Union involvement in the negotiations, buy-outs were obtained for the majority of these faculty members. However, up to 11 individuals were targeted for de-tenuring.
The deficit in SoM budget amounted to $39 million, an amount that was covered by the University Budget. The entire amount of salary and benefits of the 43 faculty members identified as unproductive is in the range of $8 million. Even if it is conceded that this amount was part of a problem, it was not the principal part of it. Even if 40% of targeted faculty salaries were off-loaded onto grants, the amount of deficit relief would have been in the neighborhood of $2.5 million; about 6 per cent of the total budget shortfall.
Thus far, only five faculty members have been charged in a de-tenuring process. One hearing has been completed. Six tenured faculty members on a hearing panel for that individual met, and although a majority supported tenure revocation; they preferred an intermediate position. They asked the panel chair (who oversees the process, but has no vote) to intervene with the two sides and see if there could be a buy-out agreed to for the faculty member. Naturally, the defense side agreed, but the Administration absolutely refused. They wanted the hearing to go to completion, to strip the faculty member publically of his tenure. The faculty member has since retired and the hearing panel has been discharged.
Some of our members on the main campus have expressed a lack of much concern for the problems of the faculty of the SoM to me. They wonder why their Union leaders (myself in particular) have spent so much time involved in the tenure problems of the faculty of the SoM. The simple answer is that the SoM faculty is as much a part of the University as is the faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. It should be recognized that if due process for our bargaining unit members in the SoM is not protected, then it cannot expect protection for those members in the rest of the University. The idea that the tenure revocation
s actions begun in the SoM can be contained there, is laughable. In fact, the Union spent more of its grievance budget last year on main campus cases than on those in the SoM, which shows that Union protections are a significant need. There are already two cases of faculty members identified for tenure revocation on the main campus. If a bad idea affecting bargaining unit members’ rights gets initiated out without a strong Union response, there is no stopping it, particularly among university administrators.
Let us hope that this tenure revocation movement has run its course in the University. The Board of Governors, in particular, should realize that the process in the SoM has already done considerable damage to the national reputation of the University. The salutary reforms in the SoM pushed by President Wilson, particularly in academic leadership, curriculum reform, and other areas, should not be overlooked. But the costs ina faculty morale and other matters to the University accompanying the tenure revocation efforts should not be underestimated.
The Union has been criticized for its defense of every faculty member singled out for tenure revocation. We are here to protect the right to due process for all the members of our bargaining unit. One can imagine what the situation would have been without the role of the Union and the protections afforded by the collective bargaining agreement. In this present situation, as in all other attempts to discharge my responsibilities, I have tried, as President of the Union, to follow the labor maxim: “An injustice to one is an injustice to all.”
Charles J. ParrishPresident, AAUP-AFT, Local 6075, WSU ChapterVice President-at-Large, AFT MichiganPresident, AAUP Michigan ConferenceMember-at-Large, National Council, AAUP5057 Woodward Avenue, Suite 3301Detroit, MI 48202313.577.1750