Tenure on the Line ay Wayne State
July 23, 2012 – 3:00am
The faculty union at Wayne State University says that proposals made by the administration last week would effectively eliminate tenure protections any time the university wanted to make budgetary shifts.
Under the proposal, “they can get rid of anyone. They admitted at the bargaining table that tenure confers no special status in terms of invoking the procedure for dismissal,” said Charles Parrish, president of the faculty union, which is affiliated with the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers.
Parrish said in an interview that negotiators were shocked that the proposal was made during contract negotiations, and were afraid that the faculty and academic staff members they represent might not appreciate that the university had actually proposed changing tenure protections. So the union sent the administration proposal (verbatim) to all of its members, and provided a copy to Inside Higher Ed. The proposal does in fact propose to eliminate the university’s current tenure protections, which are fairly standard. Currently, tenured faculty members would only be dismissed for serious misconduct or if the university were in a dire financial crisis.
The administration’s proposed new criteria for dismissing faculty members — including those with tenure — include traditional reasons, but also “the substantial curtailment or discontinuance of a program which removes any reasonable opportunity for using a faculty member’s services” and “financially based reduction in force.” The combination of these reasons, faculty leaders say, effectively eliminates the traditional protections of tenure, which don’t allow colleges that are not facing financial disaster to disregard tenure status in eliminating positions.
The union has also distributed summaries of negotiations — some of which have been posted online — in which James Greene, the chief negotiator for the university, is quoted as answering a question about whether the proposal would eliminate tenure by saying “It would have that effect, yes.”
Margaret Winters, associate provost for academic personnel at Wayne State and another member of the university’s negotiating team, confirmed in an interview Sunday both the proposal and the quote, but she said that the former did not represent an attack on tenure and that the latter was taken out of context. “Our intent has never been to do away with tenure,” said Winters. “I’m proud to be a faculty member with tenure.”
At the same time, she said that the university needs “flexibility” if it is going to continue to “focus on students” in times of tight budgets. Wayne State, like other Michigan universities, has experienced repeated state budget cuts and also strong pressure to minimize tuition increases. Financial exigency is “a very high bar,” she said. The idea that tenured faculty members (who are doing their jobs well) could be terminated only in cases of financial exigency is “a luxury of the past,” she said.
At the same time, Winters said that whenever programs have been eliminated up until now, the administration has always worked hard to find appropriate spots for those whose jobs are eliminated. That philosophy wouldn’t change, she said, even if the contract protection for tenured faculty members were to be eliminated.