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Tenure and post-tenure: discussions and rumblings

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Earlier this week we covered the discussion on the hill about post-tenure review for faculty. It's an ongoing one at KU. Nearly a year has passed since the Board of Regents issued its initial directive for state universities to develop a review policy.

One of the main focuses in KU discussions on the current review policy draft doesn't relate to the policy itself but rather its ultimate destination. As it's been conceived, the review policy would be university-wide, in the KU Provost's Policy Library. It might sound like parliamentary minutia, but some think that leaving the policy in the policy library, outside the oversight of the KU Faculty Senate, could allow the policy to be changed without faculty knowledge or input.

In its most recent meeting, the Faculty Senate implored the administration to move the policy to the Faculty Senate’s own book of regulations. The body unanimously passed a resolution stating: “In accordance with the pledge to collaborate in good faith found in the Statement of Principles on Post-Tenure Review and in recognition of the importance of continuing KU’s tradition of meaningful shared governance, it is the sense of the University of Kansas Faculty Senate that the proper location of any forthcoming Post Tenure Review policy is the Faculty Senate Rules and Regulations.”

KU Vice Provost for Faculty Development Mary Lee Hummert said in an email that the Provost's office recently received the Senate statement. With KU Provost Jeff Vitter meeting regularly with faculty governance members, Hummert said, "there will be opportunities for him to discuss this topic with them."

An even greater contingent of faculty has voiced concerns that the current draft, as written, is too complicated. The members of the draft committee said they heard faculty concerns on the issue and are working to simplify the policy.

Much of the policy's complexity could have something to do with a central tension faced by the draft committee between giving departments flexibility and creating a university-wide standard that meets the principles of the Regents mandate and the Provost's charge.

The policy draft acknowledges that more innovative research takes time and carries a higher risk of failure than more conventional research. Also, departments have different standards and measures of success. James Carothers, an English professor and member of the Senate, pointed out that there is far less external funding available for research in English as a discipline than there is for the physical and applied sciences. Where those departments might make grant awards a part of faculty evaluation, "That would be inappropriate for us," Carothers said.

While many KU faculty members have entered the discussion around the reviews with considerable passion, the reaction will likely seem tame by comparison should the legislature move to change the nature of tenure. So far we at Heard on the Hill have only heard about rumblings from Topeka on changing tenure, but we'll keep a close eye on it.

In the meantime, send your own rumblings and KU news to bunglesbee@ljworld.com.

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