Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

University Senate affirms reservations over longer allowable tenure clock

The University Senate voted Monday to affirm action taken earlier this year by the Senate Assembly expressing "significant reservations" about a proposal to increase the maximum allowable faculty tenure probationary period from eight to 10 years.

The vote was one of four taken by 120 members of the Senate who turned out for the meeting. The Senate includes all professorial faculty, librarians, full-time research faculty, executive officers and deans. The Senate Assembly is an elected body of 74 faculty members from the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses.

The full Senate also favored a suggestion that two Standard Practice Guide entries be amended to permit a two-year stop on the tenure clock. Senators rejected a proposal to seek more time for discussion before the tenure-clock issue goes to the Board of Regents, and they opposed a mechanism that would allow tenure-track faculty to voluntarily stop their tenure probationary period up to two times for one year at a time.

All four measures were in reaction to a suggested change in Regents' Bylaw 5.09 that would allow the governing faculty in each of U-M's schools and colleges to extend the maximum allowable tenure clock, if they wish.

Provost Phil Hanlon has collected public comments on the proposal. Any change to the bylaw requires a vote by the Board of Regents. A timetable for placing the proposal before the regents has not been determined.

Hanlon says a longer tenure clock could better meet the needs of today's tenure-track faculty, who face different conditions than when the eight-year maximum probationary period was adopted in 1944. He has cited increased regulatory requirements, the creation of interdisciplinary research groups and work-life balance concerns that make it more complex for junior faculty to be able to make the advancements necessary to earn tenure.

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

Various faculty members spoke for and against the idea of extending the maximum allowable tenure clock.

Several speakers cited concerns with changing the bylaw language, suggesting a longer time period would place additional performance expectations on tenure-track faculty, and that candidates denied tenure after 10 years would have a harder time finding a position elsewhere.

Although the measure was proposed partly to address work-life concerns, Rachel Goldman, professor of materials science and engineering, electrical engineering and computer science, and physics, said, "I would argue strongly that it does not make the university a more family-friendly place." She said amending the Standard Practice Guide (SPG) was a better option.

Michelle Meade, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, said she favored extending the maximum allowable tenure probationary period, but also called for safeguards to protect faculty members against risks such as those voiced by opponents.

"I like the idea of the flexibility it seems to provide," she said.

A vote breakdown for the four topics on which senators' opinions were sought is as follows:

• 70-42 in favor of a motion to affirm action taken by the elected Senate Assembly on Jan. 24 expressing "significant reservations" about changing Regents' Bylaw 5.09. The January vote reaffirmed a similar vote taken by the Senate Assembly in 2006.

• 83-35 in favor of amending SPG 201.13 and 201.92, which allow a one-year stop of the tenure clock, to permit a possible two-year stop and to expand the specified, permissible reasons for stopping the tenure clock.

• 66-51 against permitting more time for discussion, debate and the consideration of alternative plans before the university administration formally asks the Board of Regents to amend Bylaw 5.09 by extending the maximum allowable tenure clock.

• 86-33 against allowing a school or college to adopt a check-box option that would allow a faculty member to automatically stop their tenure clock for one year at a time, up to two times, at their discretion and without need of approval.