Proposed policy would give KU faculty post-tenure reviews every seven years

It’s been awhile since we’ve checked in on the development of post-tenure review for KU faculty, which is set to go into place about one year from now because of a new Kansas Board of Regents policy.

KU’s faculty governance leaders have been thinking hard about the concept over the past few months, hoping to have a strong voice in what happens. Faculty hold the concept of tenure very dear, saying it guarantees them the freedom to do research without outside influence, so a change in how tenured professors are evaluated is naturally going to draw some attention. (KU’s policy says faculty who’ve earned tenure can be dismissed only for adequate cause, unless a program is discontinued or there’s some sort of extraordinary financial emergency. Faculty will tell you it’s a myth that tenure equals guaranteed lifelong employment).

And now we know a bit more about what “post-tenure review” might mean for KU faculty members. At the direction of Provost Jeff Vitter, a committee of faculty from around the Lawrence campus has created a proposed policy for post-tenure review. It may not surprise you to hear that the policy is pretty lengthy and detailed (it was written by a bunch of professors, plus one librarian), but here are a few quick takeaways:

• It would require each faculty member who’s earned tenure to undergo a post-tenure review once every seven years, with a few exceptions. That’s on the high end of the interval specified by the Board of Regents, which asked for reviews every five to seven years. That means a lot of professors wouldn’t go through the process until nearly 20 years into their careers, as faculty must be considered for tenure by their sixth year, and KU expects them to apply to be promoted to full professor from associate professor about five or six years after that (as Vitter notes in this letter here). A promotion like that would reset the clock on post-tenure review.

• The idea of these reviews would be to get a long-range view of where a faculty member’s career is headed. Faculty would still undergo annual evaluations as they do now.

• The review would be conducted by other tenured faculty in the person’s university unit, then passed through one or two levels of administrators and ultimately to the provost, who would either accept it or call for a “university level” review.

• The policy lists some possible results that could come out of each review. This would include recognition for faculty who’ve performed better than expected, perhaps in the form of nomination for a promotion or award (other ideas thrown out by faculty, per some meeting minutes, included a salary bump, a reduction in teaching responsibilities for a year or free KU basketball tickets). Another result might be changes or support for a faculty member to either continue to develop or to improve in areas that need improvement, which could include “differential allocation of effort” — that means directing a professor to focus more on teaching or research, rather than focusing equally on both, depending on which one is a strength. Finally, one possible result would be a recommendation for the member to be fired, though it would need to be according to the policies that already exist for that.

Some explanatory comments sum things up by saying “the primary focus of post-tenure review is faculty development.” (That is, its main purpose isn’t to be correctional.) The whole policy is posted for viewing online here, and the leaders of the effort want other faculty to read it over and offer their thoughts.

Faculty governance leaders say Vitter has given indications he generally approves of the policy, and those faculty also approve, even if they probably wouldn’t have created the policy if they hadn’t been required to. The aim is for faculty to approve a final policy in fall 2013, to go into place in fall 2014.

This has been your dive into the word-filled deep end of the university policy swimming pool for the week. Time to come up for air. Help me do that by sending me another KU news tip, quick, to

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