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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Maryland Faculty Shoots Down Post-Tenure Review

Inside Higher Ed: Defeating Post-Tenure Review:

Who reviews the performance of tenured faculty members? Can such reviews have teeth without interfering with the principles of tenure?

Those issues are central to discussions of post-tenure review, a process that exists in some form at many colleges and can be controversial. The University of Maryland at College Park found that out this month when the faculty considered a proposal that would have required annual reviews of tenured faculty performance, and would have allowed sanctions, including pay cuts for some professors who receive three consecutive years of negative reviews. The faculty overwhelmingly rejected the plan, seeing it as unnecessary, unfair and a diminishment of tenure.

The leading public advocates for the plan were not administrators, but students. The leaders of both the undergraduate and graduate student governments both came out strongly for the plan.

The Maryland proposal -- developed by a joint faculty-administrator panel -- would have worked like this: Each department would create a committee to review annually the performance of tenured faculty members. Faculty members' work would not be judged solely on the previous year, but in the context of previous work as well, so that a single "slow year" would not create problems. Two consecutive reviews that represent outstanding work could qualify professors for extra recognition in various forms.

The controversy focused in large part on the opposite case. Tenured professors whose work is found "substantially below reasonable and equitable expectations" by the departmental committee and the department chair would have to develop, with the chair, a "one-year development plan outlining goals for improvement, suggesting ways that the improvement may be accomplished, and specifying the benchmarks whereby improvement can be assessed." Only after such a plan has failed to produce results could pay be cut.

In "a very small number of cases, when prior good-faith efforts to remedy performance have failed, and when other recommendations are deemed inappropriate or not considered likely to produce positive results, the recommendation may be a reduction of a faculty member’s base salary, if the faculty member's performance has declined to such an extent as to no longer to warrant the base salary that is attached to the position. The salary reduction may be permanent or for such time as the dean (or provost) believes appropriate." Faculty members could file a grievance about such decisions -- and also at other stages of the process. ...

Student leaders have been critical of the faculty vote.

Jonathan Sachs, president of the undergraduate student government, said ...  he saw the faculty vote against the review plan as "arrogance," and said that they should be "accountable" for their performance.

Anupama K. Kothari, a Ph.D. student in business and president of the Graduate Student Government, said ...  "Many graduate students were "shocked to see faculty shoot down" the proposal, Kothari said. She characterized the reviews proposed as "mild," and said that the professors' vote "made many of us suspicious of them." She added: "If you are doing a good job, why are you so scared of being reviewed?"

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Seems like the nose of the camel to me. Is there really a serious problem with tenured faculty underperforming? In my days as an (untenured) assistant prof, the tenured faculty at my school all were making valuable contributions to the school, to scholarship, or both; I don't recall any resting on his or her laurels. Is that not the case at Maryland?

Posted by: Alan Cathcart | Mar 27, 2009 3:23:33 PM