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The committee drafting a policy for post-tenure review at Kansas University is headed back to work on a version that will go before the KU Faculty Senate this fall.
The work comes amid concerns that post-tenure review is burdensome, unnecessarily punitive and could strip faculty of some regulatory protection.
Post-tenure review would enable university officials to take a long-term view of the performance of tenured professors. In 2012 the Kansas Board of Regents called for the creation of a post-tenure review process to identify “opportunities that will enable (faculty) to reach their full potential for contribution to the university.” That was followed by a directive from KU Provost Jeff Vitter in February of this year outlining what such a policy should contain.
At KU, a task force of faculty members formed in the spring to draft a policy for endorsement by the Faculty Senate that would then go to KU administration and ultimately the regents for approval. The committee released a draft in April that outlined materials needed for review, the review and evaluation process, and possible outcomes of the review, including dismissal.
State governments and universities have been adopting post-tenure review policies in large numbers since the 1990s. Critics of the reviews fear that they might be used to punish outspoken or unpopular professors and could reduce academic freedom, while proponents hope the process will weed out those professors viewed as having become complacent after attaining tenure.
Underlying nationwide debates over post-tenure review is a deeper debate over the role of tenure itself. Thomas Heilke, dean of KU Graduate Studies, said "the role of tenure is not to protect bad behavior." Rather, it protects the freedom of faculty to explore ideas and theories that might not be popular.
A post-tenure review system helps protect "the integrity of the institution by ensuring those who have tenure maintain a viable research agenda," Heilke said.
KU faculty weighs in
Since KU's draft committee released a prototype policy, faculty have had the opportunity to comment. Chris Crandall, professor of social psychology who sits on the draft committee, said at a September Faculty Senate meeting, “By far… the most common response is, ‘This is burdensome.’”
With faculty and departments already conducting regular evaluations of faculty members, some worry that the post-tenure review process will add a complicated and onerous new layer of work and bureaucracy to their jobs.
As it’s written, the policy draft states that post-tenure review must be “conducted separately from the annual evaluations and may not simply aggregate their results.” Committee members have said publicly the provision is also necessary for complying with the regents’ post-tenure review policy, which states reviews “shall be in addition to, not in lieu of, annual evaluations.”
James Caruthers, professor of English and a Faculty Senate member, said he has heard from colleagues that the post-tenure process, as currently drafted, amounts to “a duplication of effort to no ultimate point.” Caruthers himself says, “We already spend far too much time institutionally and personally looking into mirrors.”
At a Faculty Senate meeting on Thursday, Crandall said the committee had revised the policy to make it shorter and simpler.
Another worry among faculty was that the policy would reside in the Provost's policy library and not the Senate Faculty Rules and Regulations, where it could be changed without their knowledge or consent. Recently, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution stating it felt the best place for the post-tenure review policy was with its own regulation book.
Searching for consensus
Faculty also voiced concerns about the policy’s mention of punitive actions against professors under review. A statement on the draft policy by the KU history department notes the Regents mandate "makes no mention of dismissal" and "mention of dismissal therefore should be deleted" from the draft.
In response to those concerns, Crandall said Thursday that the new draft contains fewer mentions of outcomes from post-tenure review.
Crandall hopes the new draft will be finished in early November, he said. Faculty Senate leadership takes the concerns and debate raised by faculty so far as signs that the process is working.
“You can imagine a process of this magnitude is a fairly significant policy change,” Faculty Senate President Christopher Steadham said. “It has, I believe, reinforced the significance of shared governance at KU.”