The University Record, October 2, 1995

Point-counterpoint on tenure: Peer reviews needed to maintain integrity of system; rights, responsibilities cannot and should not be codified

By Jane R. Elgass

Tenure, the rights and responsibilities thereof and the possibility of sanctions for not meeting those responsibilities:

Those are the issues that were at the heart of a point-counterpoint discussion at the Sept. 18 Senate Assembly meeting that featured George Brewer and Kurt Brandle (point) and Thomas Dunn and Louis DeLacey (counterpoint).

In introducing the first in a series of such discussions, Brewer explained they are “intended to help ensure that major issues are properly considered, understood and discussed,” adding that when the tenure document was brought before the Assembly last year, “it didn’t spark discussion.”

He also noted that the speakers would be taking “a strong position for the purpose of debate, but don’t hold us personally responsible. We’re not seeking conclusion or a winner or a loser,” added Brewer, who is Assembly chair this year.

Brewer took the stance that “continuation of tenure is critical” and that “the faculty must take steps to protect tenure, to police itself” with respect to faculty who are not performing up to expectations. “Those who seek to destroy, seize on bad cases,” Brewer said.

Brewer did not call for tenure reviews, but rather performance evaluations, which he suggested be done by the faculty. These would be done in instances in which a faculty member “is almost not performing at all,” and would be a peer evaluation.

Recommendations could range from no need for action—the performance is satisfactory—to making suggestions and giving time for improvement, to sanctions that might include no raise, loss or partial loss of perks, loss of space or reduction in salary.

“This really is the concept of a review of poor performance,” Brewer said. “Tenure can be strengthened by the faculty policing itself,” he said, adding that other universities already have instituted post-tenure reviews.

Brewer also noted in his remarks that the poor performers make up a small part of the faculty, probably only 2.5 percent or less.

“Most of us are reviewed yearly,” Brandle said. “What we’re really talking about are low performers over a long period of time. That’s our concern. Tenure affects the entire unit and the University. When tenure is attacked, we need to look at our own house.”

Brandle explained that the proposed process “allows conclusions to be drawn regarding whether responsibilities have been met,” and that it must be flexible to meet the needs of the unit and the individual.

The goal, he said, is to help the individual, to have a “therapeutic response to the problem that brings about improvement.”

Dunn fears that acceptance of the Brewer/Brandle approach will lead to “codification,” and he feels that the academic profession cannot and should not be codified.

“I agree that faculty have a wide range of responsibilities,” Dunn said. If, however, you adopt the stance taken by the “point” team,” you codify.

What’s needed, he said, is an understanding of what tenure implies, along with the understanding that the rights and privileges are never absolute. Also to be considered at the dual components of academic freedom and the fact that tenure “offers a sufficient degree of economic security.”

Dunn argued that Regents’ Bylaw 5.09, which can be used in egregious cases, is sufficient.

Under the system Brewer envisions, Dunn said, effort and productivity have to be defined. “You can’t compile responsibilities; there are varying circumstances. If there are only a few egregious cases, apply the bylaws.”

Attacking Brewer’s 2.5 percent of poor-performing faculty as “monsters in the basement,” DeLacey said that is tolerable, particularly since he’s seen “no evidence of this scenario.”

“The faculty is the University,” he said. “Academic freedom is lost if there is a written list of responsibilities. Tenure relies on principles, integrity and personal recognizance.”