Paul L. Caron

Thursday, November 23, 2017

University Of Arkansas To Permit Firing Of Tenured Faculty For Lack Of Collegiality

Arkansas LogoFollowing up on last month's post, University Of Arkansas To Change Tenure Policy To Permit Firing Of Faculty For Lack Of Collegiality

Chronicle of Higher Education, When ‘Collegiality’ and Evaluating Faculty Collide:

Faculty members typically must meet standards related to their research, teaching, and service to earn tenure and keep their jobs. But sometimes, an additional criterion — collegiality — gets added to the mix, and it tends to raise professors’ hackles.

In fact, even the specter of collegiality is enough to cause alarm. Proposed changes to policies that govern tenure, promotion, and faculty dismissals within the University of Arkansas system included language that moved professors there to quickly mobilize in opposition last month. Among the concerns is what faculty see as a thinly veiled attempt by the Board of Trustees to use collegiality — or the lack thereof — as grounds for terminating a tenured professor.

The board met in early November but didn’t vote on the changes that are explained in detail in an FAQ posted on the system’s website. The system acknowledges that, until now, it has "never expressly included ‘collegiality’ among the factors that can constitute cause for dismissal," but that it does consider "‘a pattern of disruptive conduct or unwillingness to work productively with colleagues’ as conduct that may give rise to the termination of a tenured faculty member." Professors have been asked to submit feedback to the board by December 15, ahead of the board’s next meeting in late January.

Higher-education researchers have studied collegiality in the professoriate from various angles and have even suggested a way to measure it. At the same time, the American Association of University Professors has long opposed using collegiality as an explicit factor for evaluating faculty. But that doesn’t mean colleges don’t take it into consideration in some form. ...

[C]ollegiality has a dictionary definition. But what that means in practice, how it’s defined on campus, and how to equitably apply that standard is another story. The subjectiveness baked into assessing collegiality means that simply being outspoken or holding unpopular views could put a professor’s career trajectory in jeopardy, particularly if he or she is untenured. ... A faculty member’s age, gender, place of origin, and field of study can color the lens through which collegiality is viewed. ...

A better way to go, the AAUP says, is for collegiality to be considered as a common thread that runs through the three criteria faculty have long been judged by: teaching, research, and service.

The AAUP, in a widely cited statement, makes the case that collegiality poses a threat to academic freedom. It could also be used as a tool to foster uniformity by shutting out individuals who don’t fit into a group — a move that goes against the diversity of thought and vigorous debate that are hallmarks of academic life. A growing number of institutions, the statement says, have added collegiality as a fourth criterion in faculty evaluation. ...

Decisions about what constitutes collegiality and who’s exhibiting it (or not) are almost always made by administrators and faculty members with tenure. For pre-tenure faculty, when collegiality is part of the evaluation process, it further exacerbates the power dynamic between them and their senior colleagues. The stage is set for them to forgo speaking out on controversial issues out of fear that they won’t clear the collegiality hurdle, also known as "fit." ...

A lack of collegiality is also often used as a pretext for discriminatory treatment against underrepresented minority faculty members and those who hold viewpoints not shared by the majority. In fact, that’s one of the arguments made by Joshua M. Silverstein and Robert E. Steinbuch, both professors of law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. In an op-ed published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the two professors wrote that "when tenure protections are slashed, the impact is felt most keenly by minorities of all types — racial minorities, the religiously observant, and conservatives."

Robert Steinbuch (Arkansas) & Joshua Silverstein (Arkansas),  Free Speech on Campus and Academic Freedom Under Attack in Arkansas:

First, under the proposal, a lack of “collegiality” is a standalone basis for termination. The policy states that failing to “work cooperatively with others” justifies instantaneous dismissal. This means that uncollegial behavior would be one of several emergency-type grounds for immediately firing professors. It places such behavior on the same plane as “threats or acts of violence.” ...

Second, under the proposal, a single unsatisfactory annual evaluation by a single administrator is sufficient for dismissal, if the administrator determines that the faculty member is not being sufficiently “cooperative” in trying to remedy the “unsatisfactory” performance. So, again, the University’s Counsel — who, it so happens, is the chief prosecutor in faculty dismissal proceedings — wants to leverage “cooperation” as a tool to eject tenured professors.

The upshot of this change is striking: if a faculty member resists a single negative review, appeals that decision internally, or objects to colleagues or administrators about that review, he can be fired for lack of “cooperation.” ...

Third, under the current rules, comprehensive free speech rights for faculty aptly extend to all subjects. Under this proposal, however, such rights encompass only teaching and research—eliminating protections for speech associated with public and university service. This means, for example, that a professor could be fired merely for commenting publicly or internally about a school’s alleged financial improprieties or admission practices. ...

[T]he impact of the changes will be felt most keenly by minorities — racial minorities, religious minorities, and political minorities. That is what happens when individual rights are limited as in the proposal, whether in higher education or other institutional settings. Thus, one of our greatest fears is that the proposal will put conservative faculty in the cross-hairs because they are a distinct minority on campus.

The assault on tenure and academic freedom in America is part of a long-standing trend toward the consolidation of power within university central administrations. College officials all too often prefer a compliant faculty who teach, write, and speak only on uncontroversial subjects. But that fundamentally contradicts the essence of higher education.

Reason, Arkansas Universities Want to Be Able to Fire Professors Who Aren't Collegial

Legal Education | Permalink


Somehow I think a professor's political thinking will have a huge impact on their 'collegiality'. I think our current 'higher' education system is doomed and a radical overhaul will replace it with a much cheaper, less contentious version utilizing the internet to a great degree. The campus 'wokeness' and ideological purges is just accelerating the process.

Posted by: TBlakely | Nov 24, 2017 9:37:20 AM
Thomas Sowell‏

"Insulating people from reality produces unrealistic people. It doesn't matter whether they are welfare recipients, spoiled rich kids, tenured professors in the ivy league, or federal judges with lifetime appointments."

Posted by: ijh78fdcuyuiu | Nov 24, 2017 8:07:58 AM

I remember when a faculty member tried to publish a scientific research paper which contradicted the results of another (much more senior) faculty member. The senior faculty member tried to have the college stop the publication, the dean got involved, it really was a major brouhaha. It probably would have been a much more serious situation if the junior faculty member could have been fired. In case you are wondering, the paper was published.

Posted by: Henry | Nov 24, 2017 6:55:07 AM

At the end of the day, the point we've come to is that anyone who thinks and exists outside of the progresssive bubble is going to have to work now to create their own segregated community and work spaces: a completely separate, progressive-free set of institutions. Our country is well past the point of reconcilable differences. I really believe it's time to break up.

Posted by: Contrarian62 | Nov 24, 2017 5:16:39 AM

No wonder these power brokers so freely dismiss free speech rights for students, they don't even respect them for professors.

Posted by: Innf | Nov 24, 2017 5:16:34 AM

Collegiality, or similar terms, was the excuse for excluding women, minorities, and others who didn't meet those days' standards of social interaction. It's another step away from merit and toward ideological and personal conformity. Bad idea.

Posted by: mike livingston | Nov 24, 2017 2:09:25 AM

can faculty fire administrators on the same standards?

Posted by: mike | Nov 23, 2017 6:20:34 AM