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Archive for Monday, November 5, 2012

Reviews of tenured professors proposed

Trend may be aimed at ensuring accountability

Strong Hall, Kansas University

Strong Hall, Kansas University

November 5, 2012

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With the likely addition of a few words to a Kansas Board of Regents policy, tenured faculty members at Kansas University within the next few years will encounter a process they never have before: “post-tenure review.”

The way Board of Regents Vice Chairman Fred Logan describes it, that would mean a periodic assessment of where a tenured professor’s career is going, perhaps every five years.

“I think that post-tenure review — when it’s done by faculty and by university leaders, it’s a very affirming process for tenured professors,” Logan said. “It is a way to really improve what they’re doing.”

Logan supports a new line of policy the regents are considering that would require each state university to institute a post-tenure review procedure. He said the regents could approve it as soon as their December meeting.

Post-tenure review has been a trend in higher education in recent years, said Andrew Torrance, a KU professor of law who also serves as Faculty Senate president. He said he believes it’s partially motivated by a desire to keep faculty members accountable.

And accountability is not something most faculty are opposed to, he said, as long as it’s accomplished fairly.

“Sometimes faculty may get off track, and we think this could be an opportunity to get faculty back on track,” Torrance said.

The potential danger of a post-tenure review policy, as expressed by Torrance and other professors in two recent Faculty Senate committee meetings, is if it were to undermine the institution of tenure itself.

“If post-tenure review is meant to be punitive for the sake of being punitive, then I think it’s a very negative idea,” Torrance said.

Job security

According to KU policy, tenure guarantees that faculty can be dismissed only for adequate cause, unless a program is discontinued or a financial emergency occurs. Professors must be considered for tenure by their sixth year, and if they don’t receive tenure they must leave.

Tenure is something that must be closely guarded, Torrance said, because it protects faculty from outside influence on their research.

“Tenure actually backstops the objective search for the way the world really is,” Torrance said, “and it’s important to know that if you drop an apple, gravity pulls it down. It doesn’t send it back up.”

Logan said the concept of tenure is in no danger at regents universities.

“I don’t have any desire to weaken the institution of tenure,” Logan said.

Associate special education professor Sandra Gautt, a former KU administrator and a participant in Faculty Senate talks on the subject, said it’s important to note that tenure at KU or elsewhere does not equal guaranteed lifelong employment, as the “public myth” suggests it does.

Tenured faculty at KU already go through an annual evaluation process that Gautt said is more rigorous than what a typical private-sector employee might go through.

Logan said he envisioned post-tenure review as being conducted by a faculty member’s peers, whereas those annual reviews are conducted by a department chair or a dean overseeing the member.

KU’s “Bold Aspirations” strategic plan, released in 2011, also recommended a new review and mentoring system for faculty who’ve achieved tenure.

Mary Lee Hummert, KU’s vice provost for faculty support, said the university would be working with faculty governance leaders on putting a post-tenure review policy together, and eventually a special faculty committee will form to create a plan.

Logan, too, said he expected the faculty at the regents universities to take part in the planning process.

“I don’t see us getting that done during this school year,” Logan said. “I see it happening sometime next school year. It’s a lengthy process, I think.”

He said he did not want the regents to impose any specific policy on the subject.

Faculty input

Faculty Senate members have already begun discussing the possibility of post-tenure review in an effort to make sure their voice is heard.

During committee meetings on the subject, some faculty expressed concern that a new peer-review process — in addition to those that already occur for faculty up for tenure or a promotion — could cause professors to be so busy evaluating their coworkers that their work would be affected. Others wondered why an additional review process would be necessary when faculty are already evaluated every year.

Mohamed El-Hodiri, an economics professor, is the leader of the KU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, as well as the statewide AAUP group. He said he hoped a post-tenure review policy would include ways to reward professors who are performing well — perhaps by removing burdensome service requirements for talented researchers or teachers.

But he said he hoped the process does not discount the importance of teaching.

“We don’t want to think of teaching as a burden,” El-Hodiri said. “Teaching is what we are about.”

Hummert said that post-tenure review will indeed reward outstanding professors, and it will not focus solely on accountability. It would help faculty work toward promotion to full professor, and help them continue to develop even after they reach that point.

In the end, El-Hodiri said, a policy can be successful if it does include input from both faculty and administrators. It can’t be something handed down from above, as is the case with any university policy decision, he said.

“Ultimately it is shared governance,” El-Hodiri said. “It is not boss-employee.”

Comments

question4u 2 years, 1 month ago

It's probably a good idea to create and publicize a formal post-tenure review procedure, since, as Gautt points out, there is a "public myth" that tenure means employment for life. Annual reappointment assessment, mid-tenure review, tenure evaluation, annual merit assessment, and course evaluations already ensure accountability, so post-tenure review isn't likely to have much effect within the university itself. It hasn't in universities where it has been used for more than 20 years.

K-State already has a procedure for post-tenure review, and it was used to fire a professor in 2002 for low achievement. Iowa State used a new post-tenure review process this year, and all but four faculty met expectations or were rated superior. Post-tenure review does not lead to shake-ups, but rather confirms that the vast majority of faculty are highly motivated.

Logan's idea of peer assessment is odd. Shifting assessment responsibilities from the department chair, who's paid to do that, to the faculty at large, is inefficient. So far no cost-benefit analysis has been done to find out whether that kind of post-tenure review is actually worth it financially. It's hard to imagine a corporation that would take employee assessment out of the hands of managers and put its other employees to work evaluating each other. Still, the point of post-tenure review isn't cost efficiency; it's public relations.

bchap 2 years, 1 month ago

Does "going off track" mean "conducting research with findings that are inconvenient for powerful figures"?

SnakeFist 2 years, 1 month ago

The tenure system needs to be re-designed or eliminated altogether. At best, full tenure should be reserved for the handful of professors who become truly influential.

First, assistant and associate professors are consumed with moving up the tenure ladder, and it dictates everything they do and don't do. Depending on department, the bad consequences of tenure include the push to publish in quantity rather than quality, the push to produce commercializable research, and the exacerbation of already outrageous departmental politics. In short, when professors see teaching as an obstacle to doing the things necessary to move up the tenure ladder, something's wrong.

Second, very few professors are researching anything that anyone would want to influence (because, again, its primarily quantity, not quality, that matters), so tenure is simply unnecessary for the majority of professors. Is the biology professor who researches protein X, or the math professor who researches theorem Y, really in danger of being canned for speaking truth to power?

chipmunk 2 years, 1 month ago

If the Governor of Kansas understood and accepted the process of evolution I would agree with you. However...

Mike Ford 2 years, 1 month ago

conservative kansas politicians are saying shut up or we'll get you through tenure.... intimidation of intellectuals.....tried in every dictator country.

firebird27 2 years, 1 month ago

In principle, the purpose of tenure is to ensure that professors can take controversial stands on issues. Perhaps the public is less aware of how professors have taken stands on issues, even against Chancellors in the past. LIkewise, a professor will be protected against having one's job taken if that person takes a stand on politics or controversial topics, such as using stem cells in research.

On the issue of productivity, there is no reason for a professor not to be productive. On the other hand, the point of doing quality research versus quantity is problematic as stated by someone here. Most refereed journals accept from 20% to less than 5% of the manuscripts submitted. Highly qualified people are competing with one another just to get a manuscript published. It is easy to criticize what is quality and what is critical in research, but most departments hire people to cover areas of knoweldge that need teaching, and professors need some freedom to pursue the research topics they wish to study. Otherwise, they will become robots to current isses. They can destroy their ability to be independent thinkers.

I think what is at work here are two issues. First, the administration wants to clear out it considers to be deadwood. Second, it wants those funds to reduce operating costs and to reallocate those funds within the university. But lack of productivity, identifying deadwood, is a matter of criteria. Yes, a professor who does not produce publications will likely be under fire.

But an increasing criterion is to produce research grants. KU's Provost, Vitter, was central in the analysis of faculty members at Texas A&M University. His basic analysis aimed to answer the question: Is a facutly member paying for his/her job. Of course generating student credit hours is one source of a professor's economic production, but research dollars are also valued. This productivity is not just evaluated in terms of indiviiduals but also departments. Generally, universities will make some exceptions. There is no way a music department will generate sufficient grants to cover its costs. Moreover, some professors in departments have a low number of students due to no fault of their own, but they generate low levels of revenue. One wonders how much such individuals and departments will be reviewed for their lack of grant productivity.

HutchSaltHawk 2 years, 1 month ago

I can think of a few that should not have tenure...... :)

valgrlku 2 years, 1 month ago

Amen to that. Over the years, I've seen tenured faculty bully, intimidate, and downright publicly humiliate fellow students and faculty members - all while teaching one or two courses per year. Most are less than interested in "teaching" and more interested in securing grant money and doing their own research while, quite frankly, being mightily overpaid for doing so little and being in their offices so infrequently. A system such as tenure is clearly in need of overhaul, since the aforementioned faculty types continue to retain their tenured positions, even after course evaluations and formal complaints reflect troubling incidences of unprofessionalism. The primary goal of any school of higher education should be effective teaching and learning, but apparently, this is not the standard for an R1 institution.

yourworstnightmare 2 years, 1 month ago

I agree that many faculty abuse the privilege of tenure. However, research is as much a part of the job of faculty as teaching, so criticizing faculty for doing research is misguided.

Faculty are expected to be active researchers, publishing and securing external grants.

HutchSaltHawk 2 years, 1 month ago

I had a prof in the EECS dept who expected his students to teach his classes for him, and then offered no assistance on selecting a thesis topic. I cannot figure out how he justified his position.

yourworstnightmare 2 years, 1 month ago

Believe me, I can think think of more than a few who should not have a job at this university any more, who have abused the tenure system by stopping hard work once tenured.

Jim Williamson 2 years, 1 month ago

Two words: Dorothy Willner.

Post-tenure review is a really, really, really good idea.

yourworstnightmare 2 years, 1 month ago

Post tenure review is a great idea and is sorely needed at KU.

The yearly faculty evaluation system is not doing a good enough job to reward excellence and to identify and deal with low performance.

I think by "faculty member's peers", Logan meant peers at other universities. Soliciting evaluations from external peers is a key component of the promotion and tenure process, and should also be part of post tenure review. This is one thing that separates post tenure review from yearly internal evaluation.

chipmunk 2 years, 1 month ago

good luck with that - hey, can you perform some more non-compensated work for an institution you don't work for?

yourworstnightmare 2 years, 1 month ago

This is called "service", and is 20% of the job of most faculty. All professors write letters of evaluation, review manuscripts and grants, and do other service activities that are considered as part of the job. This is one of those service activities expected of all faculty.

melott 2 years, 1 month ago

There are a lot of errors of perception in this thread. But first, I want to raise the issue that should be first and foremost in this exercise: The waste of time and resources. Those who are not acquainted with the way things are done can't appreciate that. It will take a MINIMUM of a week of employee time for each person reviewed--counting that person and all the others that handle it. With about 2500 faculty members, that's about 50 years of employee time (what we used to call man-years) each time this exercise is done. Is that a good idea? They'd have to find at least a couple of serious slackers each year in order for it pay off.

  1. There is already an evaluation done within departments of everyone every year, and it typically involves both the chair and other faculty members. Anyone identified as a problem is noted and procedures instituted.

  2. Eliminating tenure will make KU less attractive to quality people. They will go elsewhere.

  3. I expect this is primarily a public relations exercise. However, those who will not be doing it have no idea how much time will be wasted.

  4. Rewarding excellence is pretty difficult, when there is next to no money for salary increases.

  5. Non-compensated work for external institutions is a normal part of the job, called external service. It includes reviewing tenure files at other universities, and reviewing grant funding proposals for agencies, reviewing manuscripts for journals, giving talks at community organizations, responding to requests for information from journalists and the public at large.....

3.

HutchSaltHawk 2 years, 1 month ago

How many students have switched majors or colleges because of bad professors? I know I did.

Maybe the tenure review should be completed every six years, not annually, and conduct the annual review every two years.

I remember several problem tenured professors there who were allowed to linger too long.

LogicMan 2 years, 1 month ago

"Rewarding excellence is pretty difficult, when there is next to no money for salary increases."

Over the last five years or so, what have been the average pay raises and how do they compare to inflation?

yourworstnightmare 2 years, 1 month ago

melott said: "It will take a MINIMUM of a week of employee time for each person reviewed--counting that person and all the others that handle it. With about 2500 faculty members, that's about 50 years of employee time (what we used to call man-years) each time this exercise is done."

Nonsense. The only difference between this and the existing annual evaluation is the solicitation of outside letters and review of the files by a college or university committee.

It will be more work, but if done on a rotating basis, it is entirely doable. Other universities much better than KU with much busier faculty are able to do it.

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