Paul L. Caron

Monday, March 8, 2021

John Carroll To Permit Firing Of Tenured Faculty If University Faces 'Financial Hardship' — 6% Budget Shortfall

Inside Higher Education, John Carroll U Dramatically Alters Tenure:

John CarrollCiting budget issues, John Carroll University fundamentally alters tenure — to the point that professors say it and academic freedom no longer exist.

Numerous institutions have laid off tenured faculty members for budgetary reasons in the last year without declaring financial exigency, as their internal policies would typically require. The temporary workaround is COVID-19 and the financial precarity it presents.

John Carroll University, a small Jesuit institution in Ohio, already delivered terminal contracts to two tenured professors of art history and eliminated the department without declaring financial exigency. Now it’s going further, permanently lowering the bar for what constitutes the kind of budget problems that allow for tenured faculty layoffs.

Whereas financial exigency means a budget crisis that threatens an institution’s survival, John Carroll now says it can fire individual tenured faculty members without cause in cases of “budgetary hardship.” This is defined as a projected — not final — annual budget deficit of 6 percent, plus two more years of foreseen challenges.

At the same time, John Carroll is denying faculty members the right to appeal these terminations. Faculty members still have certain protections under the more dire concept of financial exigency.

Even more ironically, at least to faculty members, is that John Carroll’s Board of Directors says it’s taking these steps to protect and strengthen tenure. It’s said so in numerous campus communications and in a public statement about the recent changes, which are now codified in the Faculty Handbook.

The longstanding handbook is “outdated, fails to promote fairness and equity, and is not consistent with best practices in higher education,” the board said. “Modeled after similar practices and language found at other universities, including a number of successful Jesuit institutions, the amendments prioritize the retention of tenured positions and the preservation of academic freedom, to which the board is fully committed.”

The board also has described budgetary hardship as a “scalpel”-like tool for dealing with personnel cuts, instead of the more blunt instrument that is financial exigency.

Brent Brossmann, professor of communication and Faculty Council president, called the board’s explanation “mind-boggling.”

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