Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wayne State Moves To Fire Five Tenured Faculty Who Have Not Published In Five Years

Wayne State University LogoFollowing up on last week's post, Wayne State Moves To Fire Five Underperforming Tenured Professors; President Seeks 'Accountability For Individuals And Excellence For The University': Chronicle of Higher Education, Wayne State’s Move to Strip 5 Professors of Tenure Sparks Unease About a Broader Threat:

As Wayne State University takes the highly unusual step of trying to strip tenure from five medical-school professors who its president says are "abusing the tenure system," some faculty members on the campus say they’re concerned that more tenure threats may not be far behind.

M. Roy Wilson, who has been the university’s president since 2013, drew attention on Wednesday after a Detroit News article quoted him as saying that the five professors in question are "not doing anything" and that "the bar is not that high." Hearings for one of them took place on Wednesday and Thursday.

Beyond those five, a handful of other professors have been flagged for a lack of productivity and the possible revocation of their tenure, Dr. Wilson told The Chronicle.

Many of the faculty members on that list are in the medical school. But Charles J. Parrish, a professor of political science and president of Wayne State’s faculty union, said he knows of at least two who are not — one in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and one in the College of Education. ...

The protection is important, he said, "but I do think that one can abuse tenure and take it for granted." Most professors on the campus are hard-working and productive, Dr. Wilson said. But particularly in the medical school, he said, the small number who aren’t doing their jobs well haven’t faced any consequences. "This has been tolerated for so long that it’s become part of the culture among a segment of the faculty," he said. ...

The five professors in question are in research-centric roles, officials said, and most had no publications in the past five years.

Detroit News editorial, Students Win in Tenure Crackdown:

At its best, tenure protects academics to think, teach, research and write freely. It provides them stability to publish and invest in a department and gives students continuity. At its worst, tenure protects incompetence and laziness, promising indefinite employment with no accountability or performance standards. Some balance is needed to ensure a robust academic environment as well as to shield institutions from faculty who take advantage of tenure.

Mark Taylor of Columbia University calculated that one tenured professor teaching for 35 years costs a private university an average of $12.2 million and a public university $10 million. Universities in 2010 averaged $168 million in debt nationwide. Removing 15 under-performing tenured professors could put a college in the black.

Students should also reap benefits of a more effective tenure system. A Stanford University researcher found replacing the lowest-performing 5 to 8 percent of teachers with an average teacher could enable American students to catch up with those in higher-performing nations. ... Harvard economists came to a similar finding, concluding that dumping bad teachers would increase the lifetime earnings of students by about $250,000. Good teachers matter at all levels of education.

Fortunately, tenure is on the decline as an institution. From 1975 to 2011, the number of tenured full-time college professors dropped by half. In 2014, there were 1 million professors teaching off the tenure-track who made up 75 percent of all college professors. Financially, tenure isn’t bang for a university’s buck.

But whether tenure eventually goes extinct, it persists now. Universities should implement quality measures and basic accountability and hold tenured professors to them. Otherwise, taxpayers lose, institutions lose and students lose.

Wayne State is right to lead this charge against its under-performing faculty members. Other universities in Michigan should take a close look at their ranks and do the same.

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Wayne State has had some very good people, this is sad.

Posted by: mike livingston | Apr 5, 2017 8:05:55 PM

They were warned over a year ago. Michigan Radio had a feature about it in early March 2016, if you'd care to look. President Wilson was in various positions at the medical school prior to his presidency, and he's expressed a concern for what he (and others, frankly) have seen as a tradition of paying professors for longevity instead of current contributions.

Posted by: Jean | Apr 5, 2017 9:55:42 AM

Federal employees have a similar system, unofficially. You have the devil's own time in trying to fire one of them. We need a re-look at the Civil Service Act.

Posted by: Jim Brock | Apr 5, 2017 8:54:54 AM

If tenure protections are weakened, it will be necessary in many fields to raise faculty salaries to remain competitive with industry. The threat that you might lose your job if you are unlucky in research is a serious disincentive to taking the job in the first place.

Posted by: Andrew Myers | Apr 5, 2017 8:31:53 AM

Tenured faculty should be reviewed for performance. However we should also note that tenure protects faculty from being dismissed when some administrator doesn't like their research results. E.g. when a faculty member published research results which disagreed with a dept. head's publications (real case.)

Also, doesn't every campus have annual reviews of each faculty member - tenured or not? Were the 5 faculty in the article warned 4 years ago, 3 years ago, ... ?

Posted by: Henry | Apr 5, 2017 8:09:04 AM