TOWARD A DEFINITION OF TENURE

Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs
Standing Subcommittee on Tenure

Endorsed Unanimously by the University of Michigan Senate Assembly
December 12, 1994

Tenure is important. It is something we work very hard to get, and, when we get it, it is something we spend a lot of time awarding or denying. But once someone "has" tenure, what does it mean? What entitlements and responsibilities does a tenured faculty member at Michigan have? There are probably many different answers. The members of the Standing Subcommittee on Tenure have spent the past two years researching and debating these questions. We are the faculty committee appointed by SACUA and designated by Regents Bylaw 5.09 to preside in cases of the dismissal or demotion of a tenured faculty member.

Regents Bylaw 5.09 is rarely invoked. This will undoubtedly seem comforting to many. It is rare for a tenured faculty member to be asked to leave, and even rarer that the faculty member avails himself or herself of the procedural protections afforded by Regents Bylaw 5.09.

Unfortunately, although this situation has the clear advantage of keeping perhaps ugly disputes confidential, it has one disadvantage that concerns us. It leaves the definition of the limits of tenure, certainly a matter of general concern in the University, to closed discussion instead of to the open debate such a matter deserves.

For example, in 1993 the University's General Counsel advised the provost that a tenured faculty member's salary could be reduced by 10 percent in any one year, or by 20 percent over a four year period, without infringing tenure or requiring a hearing under Bylaw 5.09. In 1992, the General Counsel advised that tenured faculty can be shifted among departments, or required to teach particular courses within a department, without infringing tenure. Finally, the abolition of mandatory retirement may make it necessary for all universities to more precisely define "cause" for dismissal of a tenured faculty member, and, in order to avoid age discrimination, to apply that definition more rigorously to all tenured faculty.

Given these circumstances, the Committee decided to open a discussion of the nature and meaning of tenure. This decision was entirely our own, and this statement represents only our own views of the matter. We encourage and would welcome discussion from faculty and others that could help refine these views.

The 1940 Statement of Principles

The basic document for any discussion of tenure in American universities is the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which was jointly promulgated by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Association of American Colleges (AAC). The 1940 Statement grounds tenure in the need for academic freedom in both teaching and scholarship, as well as in the need for "a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability." The 1940 Statement goes on to specify that, once a faculty member has permanent or continuous tenure, his or her service should be terminated only for "good cause" after following fair and proper procedures, or in narrow circumstances for "financial exigency".

The University of Michigan violated these principles in the McCarthy era by dismissing two faculty members and was subsequently censured by the AAUP. This in turn led to adoption of Regents Bylaw 5.09 and the subsequent removal of the University from the AAUP list of censured institutions.

Regents Bylaw 5.09

This bylaw provides procedures to be followed before dismissal or demotion of a tenured faculty member (or of any member of the teaching staff during the term of appointment). The procedures are convoluted, but they assure that there will be a full hearing, unless it is waived by the faculty member. They further assure that any recommendation of dismissal must be initially heard or later reviewed by the Tenure Committee, which is to say by a group of faculty members from outside the unit of the person being charged.

Regents Bylaw 5.09 sets out the process to which a tenured faculty member is entitled prior to dismissal or demotion. It does not define what actions by the University constitute dismissal or demotion, it does not specify causes for dismissal beyond those "accepted by University usage," and it does not specify the other procedural and substantive rights and responsibilities of tenured faculty. Nevertheless, it is currently the only written policy of the University that defines tenure.

The 1940 Statement and Bylaw 5.09 raise three important questions: First, what is "good cause" for dismissal of a tenured professor? Second, what privileges accompany tenure, the infringement of which is grounds for redress by Bylaw 5.09 or some other procedure? Third, what are the responsibilities of a tenured professor, and the sanctions short of dismissal that are appropriate when those responsibilities are not met?

Good Cause for Dismissal

The definition of "good cause" for dismissal of a tenured faculty member has largely been left to the courts, which in numerous cases have specified conduct ranging from extreme sexual harassment of students to failure to attend commencement exercises as grounds for dismissal. See Timothy Lovain, Grounds for Dismissing Postsecondary Faculty for Cause, 10 Journal of College and University Law 419-433 (1984).

In 1973, the Commission on Academic Tenure in Higher Education (jointly sponsored by the AAUP and the AAC) made this recommendation:

We think this definition identifies the conduct of greatest concern, while leaving needed flexibility in the definition for dealing with the wide range of conduct that may be invoked as grounds for dismissal. The Commission report makes clear that dismissal requires serious misconduct, and that sanctions short of dismissal should be available, on clearly enumerated grounds, for misconduct that falls short of this high standard. Neither Bylaw 5.09 nor the 1940 Statement specifies offenses that would warrant dismissal and we will certainly not rush in to do so. On the other hand, keeping in mind the principles of academic freedom, it does seem reasonable to suggest some possible examples, such as grievous sexual harassment, failure to meet agreed-upon teaching responsibilities, and serious scientific or scholarly misconduct.

The Privileges of Tenure

The Standing Subcommittee on Tenure believes that tenure in this University means something more to most faculty than the right to invoke Regents Bylaw 5.09 before we are dismissed. Specifically, we believe the privileges of tenure include:

  1. Continued employment until voluntary retirement or resignation.
  2. Economic security that (i) cannot be compromised based on scholarship or teaching that falls within the limits of academic freedom, and that (ii) includes
    1. An adequate salary that is not reduced during the term of employment except for adequate cause and after fair procedure ; and
    2. Adequate benefits the value of which is not reduced during the term of employment except for adequate cause and after fair procedures.
  3. Continued institutional support for our teaching and scholarship, including, at a minimum, reasonable and equitable teaching assignments in line with fair criteria and procedures (preferably in writing), as well as adequate classroom, library, and laboratory and office facilities. Academic freedom is endangered if faculty members risk losing this support because of the ideas they teach and write about.
  4. Continued involvement in the academic mission of the University and the unit in which the faculty member serves, including participation in faculty decisions on hiring and promotion, teaching, curriculum, etc.

We believe that a serious infringement of any one, or any combination, of these four privileges of tenure qualifies as a "demotion" under Regents Bylaw 5.09, and therefore entitles the tenured faculty member to invoke the procedures guaranteed by that Bylaw. In using the term "scholarship" in defining the four privileges of tenure, as well as in defining the responsibilities of tenure below, we mean to encompass the scholarly activities that are given weight during the tenuring process in each particular tenuring unit -- activities that may range from research to scholarly writing to creative works of art, design or performance.

The Responsibilities of Tenure

The Standing Subcommittee on Tenure also believes that tenure should include certain expectations and responsibilities of the faculty member that rise above the minimal level necessary to avoid dismissal for cause. We think faculty should be encouraged to meet these responsibilities, but we are uncertain what punishment, if any, is appropriate when they are not met. Nevertheless, it seems important that we acknowledge that, if we are tenured, it is because of an aspiration and belief that we will continue to produce the kind of teaching and scholarship that only academic freedom and tenure can secure.

It is useful for the University community to attempt to define just what responsibilities it ideally values in its tenured faculty, even if it will not discharge every faculty member who falls short of fully meeting one or more of those responsibilities. We offer the following description of responsibilities to start this discussion:

  1. Faculty should endeavor to teach classes carefully and competently. Faculty should prepare adequately for each class, should strive consistently to improve their performance in the classroom, and should keep abreast of new scholarly work and teaching materials in their field and, where appropriate, update their teaching to reflect developments.
  2. Faculty should be reasonably available to their students outside class for advice, counseling, and instruction on matters related to the students' classwork and academic program.
  3. Faculty should consistently endeavor to produce scholarship of the quality and quantity that is expected of untenured faculty.
  4. Faculty should serve their units, schools, the University, and the public through service activities, including faculty governance, administration, and participation in the life of the academic community, the University and the public.
  5. Faculty should adhere to what is generally considered ethical behavior in all their professional dealings with students, colleagues, staff, and persons outside the University.

Conclusion

We are convinced that academic freedom is essential to good teaching and research, the basic work of the University, and that such work deserves protection from intrusions of extramural authority, from unwarranted interference by University officials, and from, to borrow a phrase from Walter Metzger writing for the Commission on Academic Tenure, "the tyranny of colleagueships."

The answers we as a faculty give to the questions raised by the 1940 Statement and Bylaw 5.09 will have much to do with determining how well tenure protects academic freedom. Those answers will, in turn, be useful only if we can give practical effect to common professional values and articulate our consequent responsibilities. Both the reluctant 1991 decision of the National Academy of Sciences to help define misconduct in science and our own experience with writing codes suggest that the task will not be an easy one.

Signed,

1993-1994 Tenure Committee                        1994-1995 Tenure Committee    

Ruth Barnard (Nursing)                                   Ruth Barnard, Chair (Nursing
David Blair (Business)                                     Linda Katehi (Engineering)
Celeste Brusati (LSA)                                     Stuart Sankey (Music)
Linda Katehi (Engineering)                              Celeste Brusati (LSA)
R. T. Lenaghan, Chair (LSA)                          Robert L. Smith (Engineering)
Satwant Samra (Medicine)                              Bernardus Van der Pluijm (LSA)
Stuart Sankey (Music)                                     Kurt Brandle, (Architecture and Urban Planning)
Robert Smith (Engineering)                               Kent Syverud (Law)
Kent Syverud (Law)                                        Arland Thornton (LSA)
Ben van der Pluijm (LSA)                                Thomas Moore (LSA)