Inside Higher Ed, Posttenure Review or a Plan to Undercut Tenure?:
A joint committee of faculty members and administrators from across the University of Tennessee’s four campuses spent months revising the system’s posttenure review policy, which it acknowledged was outdated and needed strengthening. The committee included the university system's Board of Trustees in its process and its recommendations were adopted this year, with the goal of making posttenure review clearer and more meaningful.
So professors from across the system are baffled and alarmed by a new, hastily written add-on proposal from the trustees, with some saying it challenges the idea of tenure altogether.
“We’re concerned they're putting together a very ambiguous board policy that threatens academic freedom and represents a huge service load on the faculty,” said Beauvais Lyons, Chancellor’s Professor of Art at the Knoxville campus and president of its Faculty Senate.
Tennessee’s current — and still very new — Enhanced Posttenure Performance Review (EPPR) policy says that a campus chief academic officer must initiate an assessment after a professor gets an overall “unsatisfactory” annual performance review rating (the lowest category) or two annual review ratings of “needs improvement” (the next-to-lowest rating) in a four-year period.
Professors may also request an enhanced posttenure review after at least four regular, annual review cycles.
But earlier this month, professors found out that the trustees had written a new part of the policy, reserving the board’s right to direct administrations to review “some or all tenured faculty of a campus, college, school, department or division at any given time or at periodic intervals, as the board in its discretion deems warranted.”
Faculty members pushed back, saying that the proposal was too vague and ignored the role of the faculty in such matters. After some back-and-forth, the board added language affirming “the importance of tenure in protecting academic freedom and thus promoting the university’s principle [sic] mission of discovery and dissemination of truth through teaching, research, and service.”
Yet the policy goes on to say that the board “recognizes its fiduciary responsibility to students, parents, and all citizens of Tennessee to ensure that faculty members effectively serve the needs of students and the university throughout their careers.”
Therefore, it says, the board “may require the [system] president to establish procedures under which a comprehensive peer review shall be conducted of all faculty members, both tenured and non-tenured, in an academic program that has been identified as underperforming through an academic program review process.”
The president shall also establish, with board approval, “procedures for every tenured faculty member at a campus to receive a comprehensive peer review no less often than every six years.”
Such reviews may be “staggered” under the proposal, to avoid putting undo administrative work on faculty reviewers. But Lyons, of Knoxville, said the policy undeniably burdens professors with reviewing the work of their peers, top to bottom, every six years. “The philosophy of the board is to maximize faculty productivity, yet they’re doing it through a system that requires more service of faculty,” he said.
The program review clause, meanwhile, falsely equates faculty performance with program performance, Lyons said, and “runs the risk — if they don’t like what the College of Social Work is doing, or if they don’t like an area of research in sociology — of being used for retribution based on data that are not rooted in the academic mission.”