Posts tagged with Post-Tenure Review

The long and tangled journey of post-tenure review at KU

It took two proposals, four handouts (printed on four different colors of paper) and nearly two hours for the Kansas University Faculty Senate to approve a post tenure policy yesterday.

But of course it took far more than that. The process of crafting a policy that would allow academic departments at KU to evaluate the long-term research and performance of tenured professors began earlier this year and took, by my own rough and vague estimate, thousands of man hours.

It has been a long, fraught process full of negotiations — within the committee that drafted the proposal, between the committee and faculty during townhall meetings, among Faculty Senate members, and between the Faculty Senate and the provost's office.

After yesterday's meeting, Rick Levy, a KU law professor and co-chair of the post-tenure review draft committee, said he felt "gratified" that the committee's policy won the approval of the Senate. Yet he pointed out that the draft didn't necessarily contain his own vision of what post-tenure review should be. "Ultimately I was only a proposer," he said.

The committee's policy faced a direct challenge in the form of an amended version submitted by Gerald Mikkelson, a KU professor of Russian and Eastern European studies. The actual process of post-tenure review, as a seven-year evaluation of a professor's work by a small committee of peers, was essentially the same in both drafts. But Mikkelson's draft nixed approval of the review's outcome by school deans and the provost. Essentially, Mikkelson's alternate proposal maximized the control faculty had over the post-tenure review process. Mikkelson's proposal was ultimately defeated in favor of the committee's draft.

Throughout the months-long discussion and debate over post-tenure review, many faculty members have expressed worry that tenure itself could become eroded through the review process. The committee tried to address those concerns in their revised policy draft, released in October for public consumption, by deleting most references to disciplinary consequences that could follow from post-tenure review.

Also at stake is the power faculty have through the governance process. One of the bigger issues throughout the talks has been about the destination of the policy — i.e., whether it will reside in the Faculty Senate's rule books or the provost's. Ultimately the question boils down to how much control and oversight faculty members are given over future changes to the policy.

The Senate essentially lost that battle, at least on the original front it was fought. Earlier this fall the Senate voted unanimously on a resolution that essentially said to the provost's office, "Hey, we want the policy with us." Mikkelson's draft stated outright that the post-tenure review policy would reside with the Faculty Senate. KU Provost Jeffrey Vitter's position was that the policy belonged in his office's policy library because it was a personnel matter, along with annual evaluations.

However Vitter's office did offer a compromise, negotiated with the Faculty Senate's executive committee, that would in effect give the Senate the power to approve any future changes to post-tenure review and the annual evaluation policy — something the Senate didn't have before. That compromise passed last night.

Listening to all this debate over how much power the provost should have over post-tenure review was Vitter himself. When the meeting was over, I asked him if he took any of it personally. "If I did that, I wouldn't be able to survive," he said. Not that any faculty members voiced suspicions and distrust of Vitter as a person. Rather, the debate centered around the power of his office relative to their own.

Vitter said that he, too, thinks there is room for a stronger role at the university for the Faculty Senate. The amendments passed last night give faculty governance "new power," something Vitter thought was important, he said. As a whole, he voiced pleasure over the policy-creation process — tangled as it's been at times.

"It illustrates the positive things that can happen when people work together for the common good," he said.


Post-tenure review 2.0

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


Tenure and post-tenure: discussions and rumblings

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


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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    Chancellor talks faculty governance survey, post-tenure review with Daily Kansan

    Happy Thanksgiving break, KU students and others who've left campus for the rest of the week. Heard on the Hill will keep chugging along today, just in case you need an excuse to tune out a long-winded family member or need something to do during your three-hour airport layover.

    In her third monthly "fireside chat" with the University Daily Kansan this semester, KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little commented on a couple of issues we've addressed in this space: post-tenure review and the American Association of University Professors faculty survey results released last week.

    On the survey, Gray-Little told the Kansan she was "surprised that our faculty feels that they don't have a voice in governance." She put forth a similar theory to that which I heard from University Senate president Chris Crandall: that the number of far-reaching changes being pursued by the administration right now (the "Changing for Excellence" efficiency measures, the new undergraduate curriculum and other things laid out in the "Bold Aspirations" plan) might be making some faculty uncomfortable.

    "A lot of things are going on right now, and maybe that makes it hard for people to feel they're in their comfort zone," Gray-Little said.

    (One more thing about that survey: Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, the associate professor of aerospace engineering who handled much of the work, said that the range of responses that came in were wide: some faculty gave the university "D" or "F" grades on every question, some gave nearly all "A's," and others fell somewhere in the middle. So not all faculty feel their voices aren't being heard, but some do apparently strongly feel that way.)

    And on the topic of post-tenure review, Gray-Little sounded positive about the process of putting it in place, as have most folks I've heard from about this lately. She said the Faculty Senate's efforts to make members' feelings heard about post-tenure review indicated a "positive approach."

    Also in the interview, the chancellor addressed Gov. Sam Brownback's comments last week about higher-education funding, as well as her plans for Thanksgiving.

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