Detroit News, Wayne State: 5 Professors ‘Not Doing Anything,’ Should Lose Tenure:
In a move rarely seen in academia, Wayne State University is trying to fire multiple faculty members depicted as abusing their tenure by doing as little work as possible.
Hearings to revoke tenure start Wednesday for the first of five WSU medical school professors who allegedly are performing poorly in research, scholarship or teaching. Another five professors, including some outside the 996 faculty members in the medical school, also may face dismissal proceedings, university officials said.
Only two other times in WSU’s 149-year history has the university begun proceedings to take away a professor’s tenure, which is an indefinite appointment. In both cases, the faculty member prevailed.
But this is the first time the university is attempting to terminate several professors. They will lose their jobs if tenure is revoked. ...
Already, the university announced in August that 37 medical school faculty could lose their positions through retirement or termination for underperforming in their academic assignments — which has led to the departure of two dozen faculty.
WSU President M. Roy Wilson told The Detroit News that the dismissal hearings are aimed at accountability for individuals and excellence for the university. The professors facing the hearings are “grossly underperforming” and “not doing anything,” he said, making it difficult to move the university toward its mission as a premier urban research institution.
“(They) are blatant examples of taking advantage of a tenure system, which is a privilege,” said Wilson, who took office in 2013. “I value tenure. It’s important for universities. I have always protected tenure. ... But when it’s abused so blatantly, it makes it very difficult for other people who are doing what they are supposed to do to come to work and do their jobs, because they see another person getting the same amount of money or more and not coming into work and not being accountable at all. You just can’t build a first-class university that way.”
Charles Parrish, president of the American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers at Wayne State, said he strongly discouraged Wilson from trying to remove tenure from professors, and suggested the move is a way to cut costs resulting from failure of past administrators. “No other university that I know of in American history has launched an attack on tenure in this way, announcing that they were going to go after (nearly) 40 faculty members,” Parrish said. “There have been attacks on tenure all over the country ... but not from inside the university.”
The de-tenure proceedings involve each professor going before a seven-member panel, including a nonvoting judge or arbitrator, for a closed hearing. The panel makes a recommendation to Wilson. If the president recommends dismissal, then Wayne State’s Board of Governors or a committee appointed by the board will have another hearing. The board makes the final decision. ...
Parrish expects that all the faculty members will vigorously defend themselves, especially since they have not been provided with written evaluations or discussions about their performance over time. “I am not sure the university is going to get any of them,” he said. ...
At Wayne State, there are three reasons why a professor with tenure could face dismissal: moral turpitude, such as sexual assault of a colleague or misconduct with a student; violating generally accepted academic practices such as fraud in research; or failure to perform academic assignments competently, according to university statutes. Wilson said all the professors are facing hearings because of failure to perform in their academic assignments, per the recommendation of medical school Dean Jack Sobel. ...
Parrish confirmed that the five professors are four men and one woman who have served the university for an average of 30 years. ...
Detroit attorney Gordon Gregory expressed outrage after meeting last May with the professor and Sobel. During the meeting, Sobel highlighted many contributions the professor made in his career, but then noted the lack of grants and publications in recent years, according to the letter. The professor protested that he had been moved to a lab with inadequate equipment to perform significant research, and the administration was aware of the situation. Still, medical school officials continued to insist the professor was unproductive, according to the letter.
“To my dismay, I witnessed the summary destruction of a distinguished academic career spanning 26 years at WSU,” Gregory wrote in an email to Louis Lessem, WSU’s vice president and general counsel. “It took only ten minutes for (an associate medical school dean) to announce that (the professor) could resign or face dismissal. He is not prepared to retire or resign. ... He was never given expectations. No one knows where productivity begins and ends.”
Wilson said he feels strongly about holding people accountable. “The bar is not that high,” he said. “We are asking people to do what they are being paid to do.” ...
The five professors now targeted were identified last year when WSU generated a list of 60 to 80 unproductive medical school faculty, university officials said. The list was prompted by concerns that the Board of Governors had heard for years about the medical school, which is a significant part of the university, making up 43 percent of WSU’s $1.2 billion operating budget.
Wilson, an ophthalmologist with numerous previous leadership positions in medical school administration, hinted at the problems with Wayne State’s medical school faculty three years ago when the former dean, Dr. Robert Mentzer, filed a lawsuit that alleged officials defamed him by trying to force him out. At the time, WSU officials said Mentzer had accepted a position with a university in California, spent most of his time there and his professional behavior amount to “theft.”
“The days of getting a full-time paycheck and not doing your work ... are long gone,” Wilson said in May 2014.