Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Senate Assembly expresses reservations over longer allowable tenure clock

The Senate Assembly on Monday said it had "significant reservations" about a proposal that would increase the maximum allowable faculty tenure probationary period from eight to 10 years.

Phil Hanlon, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, is considering the longer tenure clock, saying it could better meet the needs of today's tenure-track faculty. Hanlon addressed the budget and other issues at Monday's meeting of the faculty-governance body, but was not present for the discussion and vote on the tenure probationary period.

The eight-year maximum tenure probationary period now in use was adopted by the Board of Regents in 1944. A change requires a vote of the regents because the maximum time is referenced in Regents Bylaw 5.09.

The Senate Assembly was nearly unanimous in approving two resolutions endorsed by the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs.

The first resolution, which was supported by all in attendance with one abstention, reads: "Resolved, that at the University of Michigan only tenure track faculty as a body are eligible to make final decisions of the faculty in matters involving tenure including, but not limited to, the tenure process as described in Regents' Bylaw 5.09 and its procedures, as well as individual decisions to grant tenure."

The second motion, which was supported by all members attending except for one "no" vote and one abstention, reads: "Resolved, that the Jan. 23, 2006, action of the Senate Assembly expressing significant reservations about any changes to the Regents' Bylaws governing structure is hereby reaffirmed."

Senate Assembly members said the proposed change appears to be in response to concerns involving Medical School clinical faculty, but that it could allow the tenure clock to be lengthened across the entire university.

"It makes much more sense to fix what's wrong rather than to create something for the whole university which is now going to affect all of our junior faculty," said Deborah Gumucio, professor of cell and developmental biology at the Medical School.

The change would not mandate that any school or college adopt a longer tenure probationary period, but would give more flexibility to units in which faculty want it. The faculty of each school or college will continue to decide on the length of its probationary period.

Currently, depending on the unit, the maximum allowable probationary period ranges from six years in the Law School to seven years in LSA and engineering to eight years in business and medicine.

Much has changed since 1944 — including increased regulatory requirements, the creation of interdisciplinary research groups and work-life balance concerns — that makes it more complex today for a junior faculty member to be able to make the advancements necessary to earn tenure, said Hanlon, a professor of mathematics.