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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Proposed Post-Tenure Review Policy Adds to Turmoil at St. Louis

St. Louis LogoOn the heels of the abrupt resignation of Dean Annette Clark and the selection of local practitioner Tom Keefe as Interim Dean (links below):  Chronicle of Higher Education, Faculty-Review Proposal at Saint Louis U. Would 'Eviscerate Tenure,' AAUP Says:

Faculty members at Saint Louis University are worried about a proposed post-tenure review policy that the American Association of University Professors says is written in a way that has the potential to endanger the tenure status of professors at the Jesuit institution.

"Post-tenure review should be for the purposes of assisting faculty members in improving their performance," says B. Robert Kreiser, associate secretary of the AAUP. "But the policy that has been proposed would effectively eviscerate tenure as it's understood at most institutions of higher learning."

At issue in the proposed policy, which is slated to take effect in January, are two of the potential outcomes it outlines for a post-tenure review. The proposal says that, following a review, professors could remain tenured or could be placed on a "performance improvement plan" with a re-evaluation in two years; both of those potential outcomes are typical in post-tenure reviews.

But the other options under the Saint Louis plan—moving faculty to non-tenure-track positions or giving them a terminal contract, in which they would be fired with a year's notice—are "of grave concern," said Mr. Kreiser, who has reviewed the policy. "This policy is certainly among the worst I've seen, and it's hard to imagine a policy that could be much worse than this one."

The policy also says that post-tenure review will be similar to the regular tenure-and-promotion process. Mr. Kreiser said that sends a message that "even though you have tenure now, we're going to review you as though you do not." ...

The proposed post-tenure-review policy became public at a time when the university had just responded to the highly publicized resignation this month of the dean of its law school. In resigning, Annette Clark, who had been hired just over a year ago, sent a letter to the institution's president, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, and its vice president of academic affairs, in which she said that she lacked confidence in their ability to lead the university and that they weren't committed to the law school's success. She accused Father Biondi of a series of actions that "evinced hostility" toward her position, such as deciding, without consulting her, that the law school would move to a donated building downtown.

Father Biondi responded in a letter of his own that Ms. Clark was about to be fired on the same day that she resigned, August 8.

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If opponents of tenure are correct, St. Louis should rise in bar passage, employment, rankings, and other output measure.

I'm skeptical. In my view, tenure is a form of compensation valued relatively highly by faculty. If I'm right, the St. Louis experiment represents a pay cut. Will the school be able to attract and retain good faculty in the face of such a pay cut? If I'm right, over time the answer should be no, and the school should decline.

It's possible, of course, that the school has an abnormally high percentage of underperforming faculty. If so, it should benefit from the move, even if a more typical school would not.

It is also possible that the productive faculty actually support the change, believing it will be administered in a way that benefits them (e.g., redistribution of salary resources away from underperforming faculty). If so, in the short and medium term, the school may benefit from the move as well.

If there comes a time when the faculty does not support the change and believes the administration to be abusing its power, I would expect the faculty to unionize -- at which point St. Louis will end up with de facto tenure, although not quite as rigid and with an institutionally adversarial relationship between faculty and administration. Not a good outcome.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Aug 31, 2012 8:47:38 AM