The University Record, September 30, 1998

Faculty Perspectives

By Robert A. Green, M.D., Professor Emeritus

rgreen@medmail.med.umich.edu


Recent articles in The University Record and Ann Arbor News on faculty concerns about the increase in non-tenure track faculty stirred an intense deja vu feeling in me, and reminded me of a conversation with a friend some months ago. After I had remarked that one should never trust an administrator, he took me to task. Wasn't that too much of a generalization? Hadn't I been an administrator myself, and hadn't I done the best I could? Why was I so cynical? What was it that was bothering me?

He was right, of course, in part. I mentioned two trivial issues to illustrate my point, because they are graphic and easily checked by anyone. When the new hospital was under construction ten years ago, a portion of the playing fields along Fuller Road was converted into temporary parking. A big sign was posted alongside advising that this parking area was temporary, necessitated by the new hospital construction, and that upon completion of the hospital, the playing fields would be returned to their former state. Take a look today. The hospital is long since complete but the parking lot is still there, and expanded from the original "temporary" construction.

The other example is at the Simpson Memorial Institute on Observatory Drive. Since the twenties, it stood, surrounded by a green oasis in the midst of the hospital complex. The donor will which deeded it to the University was ironclad; the space around Simpson could not be used for other construction. But when a crunch on office space occurred, permission was obtained to put up a few temporary structures until the crunch could be relieved. Take a look. Fifteen years later, the "temporary" structures are still there.

These are perhaps simple matters, upsetting to few. But the increasing numbers of non-tenure track faculty have created concerns because faculty morale and the tenure system are simultaneously threatened. The problem has a history, and a review of that history may be helpful.

 

History of Clinical Faculty in the Medical School

The Medical School has always had a category of faculty called "Clinical" faculty. The term was confusing from the start. It did not refer to the faculty of the clinical departments, as contrasted to the basic science departments of the school. Instead, it referred to individuals whose primary employment or practice was outside the University and who helped with education of the medical students, either in exchange for a title or a modest stipend. These individuals were called voluntary faculty at other medical schools, particularly urban ones, and no one objected to this system.

In the mid-'80s, however, the U-M Medical School proposed a class of full-time University employees who would have the Clinical prefix added to their academic titles. Initially these recruits were supposed to be younger people just out of medical school training. They were supposed to stay for a year or two, to help with the education program and to gain more experience themselves. The Vice Provost for Medical Affairs at that time expressed the preference to attach professorial titles to these positions rather than use the non tenure track title of Lecturer because the latter was not a major part of the medical school culture. At the same time these appointments were arising on the medical campus, the Literary College proposed an expansion of their faculty ranks to include an untenured Lecturer population who were or would become long term appointees at part time or full time employment effort.

Soon the Medical School administration suggested that the Clinical prefix might well apply to long term full time faculty within the University who (1) would not be eligible for tenure, (2) would not have the usual academic responsibilities or rights of the tenure track faculty, and (3) they would not be subject to an up or out promotion policy.

These proposals were regarded by the Tenure Committee of the Senate Assembly and by SACUA as attempts to weaken the faculty structure, and as an attack on tenure. Everyone understood that administrators prefer the system they proposed rather than the tenure track system for many reasons. It would be easy to hire people more cheaply, to keep them more cheaply in the long term and still, perhaps, get a quality performance on the job.

The Medical School administration refused to accept a numerical or percentage limitation on these additions to the faculty, but SACUA (the Senate Assembly Committee on University Affairs) was assured in discussions with administrators that the entire full time Clinical group would not exceed ten percent of the Clinical faculty. This limitation ostensibly applied to the Clinical prefix faculty, not the faculty of the clinical departments. In fact, after initially denying that any department would ever have many of these appointments, the Vice Provost later suggested that one particular department ought to be primarily constituted of full-time non tenure track faculty. SACUA's objections were strong, and faculty advocates held exhaustive series of committee meetings and discussions with the administration. Finally, a compromise was reached with Billy Frye, then the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, who was widely respected and trusted by the faculty. The proposal for this new use of "Clinical" professors would be accepted for a threeyear trial period and at the end of the three years the Provost's Office would arrange for an in-depth review of the results of the change.

Well, what happened? Three years later Frye had left the University. The new Provost, Charles Vest, and his office were reminded repeatedly about the agreement that a review was required. The Medical School was eventually directed to review the issue, and the Executive Faculty were called to a meeting arranged by the Dean. The Dean had instructed each and every department chair either to come to the meeting in person, a rare occurrence, or to send a representative. Each Chair or chair's delegate spoke glowingly about the new clinical track additions to their faculty. The faculty member in the Medical School who was also a member of SACUA was not recognized to speak at the meeting. The Medical School "review" thus orchestrated found no problems with the change. The ten percent limitation figure was mentioned, in fact, but in a metamorphosed form that extended now to ten percent of the entire faculty of the Medical School, including basic science and clinical department faculty. The Provost received this word, and declining further study or review at the level of the Central Administration, the issue was closed for the moment.

 

But here it is again! Figures presented at the Regents' meeting and since published show that more than a third of the entire Medical School faculty now falls under this classification. Remember, we are not speaking of practitioners around the state who have been made members of the Executive Faculty of the Medical School, but of full-time University faculty, teaching and taking care of patients in the presence of students and house officers, who have neither the responsibilities nor the privileges of the tenure track. In two other University Schools, the figure is more than half. The implications for the future of the faculty are serious. "Trusting the administration" and not facing the issue head on helped bring us to this point. What does the future hold? The current administration consists of good folks, I am sure, and trust between them and the current crop of faculty leadership is obviously desirable, but how deep should trust of the administration go?

 


The Faculty Perspectives Page is an outlet for faculty expression provided by the Senate Assembly. Any member of the University Senate is eligible to submit a Faculty Perspectives essay. Prospective contributors are invited to contact the Faculty Perspectives Page Committee at faculty.perspectives.page@umich.edu. Submissions are accepted in electronic form and are subject to review by the Committee. Essay lengths are restricted to one full printed page in The University Record, or about 1,500 words. Past Faculty Perspectives can be accessed through the Faculty Governance web page at www.umich.edu/~sacua/.


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