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Post-tenure review 2.0

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Some weeks ago we checked in on the ongoing construction of Kansas University's post-tenure review policy. After open forums around campus for faculty to weigh in, plus lengthy discussions in the Faculty Senate, the committee tasked with writing a policy has produced a new draft for faculty members and their representatives in the Senate to mull over.

This policy is considerably shorter — a direct response to concerns that the early draft was long, complicated and potentially onerous for the academic departments adopting it. The new version is about three pages long (single spaced), about a page shorter than the previous draft. For those who like the revised policy, Faculty Senate and draft committee co-chair Chris Crandall said thanks go to his fellow draft committee member Rick Levy for the word-smithing.

In addition to being shorter, the revamped policy nixes language about disciplinary actions, including dismissal, for faculty members who fail to satisfy an academic department's criteria. That is also a response to faculty concerns that the previous policy was unnecessarily punitive.

The new draft sticks mostly to language that is positive, describing the post-tenure review policy as encouraging "professional vitality through collaborative discourse concerning the faculty member's role" in his or her department, school and field. And the draft cuts out a reference from the last draft that reads "In some cases, post-tenure review may indicate the need for corrective action if the faculty member has failed to satisfy the (academic) unit's state criteria."

For those who took exception to references of "corrective action," they pointed to the original Kansas Board of Regents mandate calling for post-tenure review, which made no mention of punitive measures, stating rather that the review process was an opportunity for "identifying opportunities that will enable them to reach their full potential for contribution to the university."

The KU History Department, for example, published a statement that argued because the Regents made no mention of dismissal in its post-tenure review mandate, "the PTR policy should not introduce such measures."

Mike Williams, KU associate professor of journalism, said the draft committee "did a really pretty decent job to address some of the concerns of faculty." Williams is aware of the anxieties post-tenure review talk can kick up among faculty. The mere mention of "post-tenure review" can often "sends chills down the spines" of professors, especially those who fear it amounts a second tenure process. "That's not what this is," Williams says. "It's not that kind of deal."

There is also much anxiety about the rollout and timing of the policy — the "who goes first" question, as Williams points out. Others have continued to express concerns not about the new policy draft itself, but where it resides.

The Faculty Senate has previously expressed to administration that it wanted the policy to reside in its own book of rules and regulations. As it is designed, the post tenure review policy is set to become part of the university-wide policy library, putting it under the direct purview of administration. Many faculty members have expressed concerns that this would allow future administrators to change the policy without faculty approval or even knowledge.

"We want it to be in the faculty code, because for it to be changed one iota it would have to be approved by Faculty Senate," said Gerald E. Mikkelson, a KU professor of Russian and Eastern European studies. "The provost is not yielding one inch on the matter of where that policy will reside."

KU Provost Jeff Vitter has said the policy library is the best home for the post-tenure review policy because it relates to the evaluation policy, another personnel matter.

The Faculty Senate still has to debate the new draft and vote on it before it comes before administrators for their approval. The policy is slated to go into effect in April 2014.

Until then I'll keep rocking the post-tenure review updates. If it were legal, and not a flagrant violation of journalistic and most other kinds of ethics, I'd start taking odds on the Senate's passage of the post-tenure review policy. Well, I won't be taking bets, but I will be taking your KU news tips. Send them on over to bunglesbee@ljworld.com

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