The University Record, January 9, 1996
Note to readers: The University Record welcomes letters from members of the University community.
Faculty career decisions influenced
by lack of
protection of tenure
One of the most important issues facing academia is tenure, as demonstrated by recent reports in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Black Issues in Higher Education, as well as specific projects within organizations such as the American Association of Higher Education. Expectedly, the American Association of University Professors continues to be intricately involved, as many of their "censures" of universities/colleges are based on tenure violations.
Efforts at our institution have included a Senate Assembly "debate," as well as the Tenure Committee's document "Toward a Definition of Tenure." Although this document, which included rights and responsibilities, was approved by Senate Assembly, it received considerable criticism from the provost. As a result of this opposition and possibly due also to challenges of Bylaw 5.09 by individual faculty, this document is now being reassessed.
A very important point needs to be made regarding tenure at our institution. Despite what was stated in both the "Toward a Definition of Tenure" document and the 1994 Faculty Handbook, plus, more importantly, what should seemingly be an inherent right of tenure, a faculty member cannot invoke the proceedings of Bylaw 5.09, essentially preventing their due process. Thus sanctions, based on personal and/or political reasons, can be placed by administrators who, in turn, are the same individuals who decide whether or not a hearing is to occur. Ironically, it was that type of action taken by U-M administrators against three faculty members in 1955 that led to "Tenure" Bylaw 5.09. Progress?
As a result of this "lack of protection," faculty decisions regarding career directions are significantly influenced, specifically by the consequences of making those decisions. For example, not all faculty, even at prestigious research universities, choose to stay in the "traditional pathway" until becoming full professor; in fact, some individuals choose to deviate from that path before achieving tenure! For these individuals, this choice is beset with political repercussions that impact directly on their professional development and future. Without true academic freedom, i.e. being able to express oneself professionally, academically and personally, the academy cannot succeed, especially since tenure and post-tenure reviews can be tainted by political and/or personal biases that result from the faculty member's unwillingness to "recite the party line." Unquestionably, faculty often do not "advance" through the system, not due to lack of progress but because of their resistance to conform.
Thus, as institutions like Michigan concern themselves with defining the responsibilities of tenure, they must be equally concerned about assuring "responsible behavior" on the part of the administration who ultimately makes these tenure and post-tenure decisions. If not, that academic two-way street (i.e. faculty/administration) will become increasingly more one-way (i.e. administration) until it eventually becomes a dead end.
Thomas D. Landefeld, associate professor of pharmacology