university wants a union contract that abolishes tenure

That’s Wayne State, currently bargaining with its faculty union. Scott Jaschik in IHE:

The faculty union at Wayne State University says that proposals made by the administration last week would effectively eliminate tenure protections any time the university wanted to make budgetary shifts. 

Under the proposal, “they can get rid of anyone. They admitted at the bargaining table that tenure confers no special status in terms of invoking the procedure for dismissal,” said Charles Parrish, president of the faculty union, which is affiliated with the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers. 

Parrish said in an interview that negotiators were shocked that the proposal was made during contract negotiations, and were afraid that the faculty and academic staff members they represent might not appreciate that the university had actually proposed changing tenure protections. So the union sent the administration proposal (verbatim) to all of its members, and provided a copy to Inside Higher Ed. The proposal does in fact propose to eliminate the university’s current tenure protections, which are fairly standard. Currently, tenured faculty members would only be dismissed for serious misconduct or if the university were in a dire financial crisis. …

UO now has a faculty union, which will start bargaining with our administration soon. It’s going to be high stakes – tenured faculty should get involved. 7/25/2012.

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29 Responses to university wants a union contract that abolishes tenure

  1. Anonymous says:

    Can someone clarify the following scenario:

    If the UO or another institution deemed it necessary to shut down a program or department in order to reallocate resources to other programs/departments, is the institution obligated under tenure guidelines to retain the faculty members affected? I support tenure on academic freedom grounds but worry the institution’s ability to meet market demand or to strategically invest in top programs might suffer if not allowed to reasonably restructure academic priorities which I would imagine can evolve dramatically over the typical career of a tenured faculty member. Just trying to understand why a degree of flexibility in managing tenured faculty lines might not be appropriate given the current state of higher ed funding.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Dog says

    no, go back to Measure 5 in 1990

    if you eliminate a program or department you are not obligated (legally)
    to retain tenured faculty.

    for instance, if the UO sold its law school
    it is under no obligation to retain its faculty

  3. Anonymous says:


    a bit more clarification

    from the University Assembly Minutes from Dec 5, 1990

    “In instances where faculty are tenured and a program is eliminated, a reassignment for faculty that fits their expertise will be found for those who remain at the UO. If a non-tenured faculty person is to be cut the University will give a one year notice. This will cause a cash flow problem for the University for the next year or two. But it is felt that the UO can handle the problem by making very wise decisions in budget distribution over the next two years. “

    The UO was not obligated, however, to do this reassignment. The main fall out of
    Measure 5 was the elimination of many programs in the School of Ed and a net 39%
    loss of Ed. Faculty.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Dog, thanks for the perspective. On the surface it does seem that tenure limits the effective restructuring of academic priorities by forcing the school to retain faculty. I would think it gets even more complicated at the department level where a desired shift in academic focus (I.e. a shift in say the journalism department from traditional media to online or social media) may prevent necessary and logical faculty turnover. Worth incorporating into the dialog of the role of tenure on a campus in 2012.

  5. Puppy says:

    Language can, and has at other institutions, be written into the collective bargaining agreement that deals with this very thing. I think it’s called “retrenchment” in such contract language.

  6. Anonymous says:

    There’s the danger, however, of mistaking an academic fad for a desired shift in academic focus.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The penultimate Anon misses one of the mean reasons for tenure, which is to allow scholars to pursue the lines of research within their field they deem to have intellectual merit, without fear of losing their jobs. If Andrew Wiles had had to check with a Provost Bean as to whether his contract would be renewed if he spent a few years trying to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem, one wonders if we would have a proof. (But maybe he would have approved a sabbatical scanning the literature!)

  8. Anonymous says:

    Dog says

    I think the issue goes beyond tenure (although I do agree with the mean reason as stated in the now new penultimate anon) and goes to the barriers that exist for a Higher Education
    Institution to transform itself. There is so much legacy baggage that its unclear whether or not is even possible. For instance, if the UO decided to close the school of Journalism (on the basis that its graduate student participation rate is too low to warrant it being a separate school within the University – this is all hypothetical of course) – but was then obligated (legally) to re-assign the tenured faculty, well, then, there is not much point to closing the school and re-allocating resources in new priority directions. There may be nothing wrong with this, but it does, in my view, strongly serve to a)keep legacy alive, b) keep us faculty silo’d in our departments/schools, c) precludes transformation to more interdisciplinary curriculum and problem solving.

    • Anonymous says:

      The UO has a pretty good record of solving problems b) and c) via interdepartmental institutes. Problem a) is then solved by attrition.

    • Anonymous says:

      dog says

      The interdisciplinary institutes are almost exclusively research based,
      with a little graduate student training showing in. If that structure has a direct connection with undergraduate education, I can’t see it.

    • Frank says:

      Dog is ill-informed but apparently willing to learn. Here is some history that might be helpful. In the late 1950’s it was recognized that Science at UO could be enhanced by creation of a program in “Molecular Biology” (a program not then recognized anywhere else, as far as I know). Such a program should ensure the fruitful interaction of Geneticists, Chemists and Physicists who shared an interest in explicating biological phenomena at the molecular level. To get the ball rolling, it was decided o hire a director from outside (with status of Professor in one of the Departments) and grant him/her a handful of vacancies. Those hired into the Institute would receive appointments in the Department in which they had formal training, and in which they would typically conduct their undergraduate classroom teaching. They would be housed together (with an administrative staff) to facilitate their research interactions.
      Because the “discipline” was new and not widely recognized, participating graduate students were admitted into departments (upon the recommendation of the Institute faculty). They earned their degrees in those departments, by meeting the standard requirements of the departments and completing a research thesis acceptable to the Institute Faculty (and others appointed to their committee). Undergraduates related to the Institute in a similar manner. They earned degrees in a department while they participated in research in the institute. Those going forth from the program could demonstrate basic competence in a classical discipline along with research productivity in an expanding, interdisciplinary field. This format really worked – our graduates where welcomed elsewhere. The involvement of this Institute in both graduate and undergraduate teaching is intense.
      During my 40+ active years, I directed a research program that characteristically had from three to six students in a varying mix of graduate and undergraduate. (There were generally 2-3 postdocs, as well). In my first three years, undergraduate research students included those who went on to graduate school at Stanford (2), MIT and Harvard. In my final two years, my undergraduate colleagues gained graduate degrees at Harvard (2) and Johns Hopkins (1), while one entered the Biotech industry. The experiences of my colleagues in the Institute have been similar.
      Without doubt, this interdisciplinary program has had significant impact on the graduate and undergraduate programs at UO, both in research training and in the classroom. Other science-based institutes have had similar success here.
      What were the keys to success, and are those keys generally useful? I think some of them may be exportable to nonscience institutes:
      1. The MolBio Institute (and others in Science) involved no reduction in staff lines for existing Departments. This made it easier to gain the cooperation of the Departments in launching the program.
      2. Although the Director had freedom with respect to the particular research program of each appointee (facilitating the desired break from tradition), the Departments retained veto rights based on the quality of the candidate.
      3. Departments accepted the idea that incoming faculty would have a voice as to which Department they chose to be a member of, as long as things evened out over the long haul. This gave the Director greater latitude in finding good candidates.
      4. Directors that allowed their Institutes the greatest level of participatory democracy in major decisions have flourished.
      5. Students (graduate or undergraduate) have been free to move among groups in search of a best fit (and even go outside the institute when their interests took them there.)
      6. Facilities and equipment are shared among groups to the extent possible. This not only saves bucks but also promotes interactions.
      The institutes of which I am aware were initiated prior to 1995. I don’t know whether the present budget model has even the bit of flexibility needed to create new, interdisciplinary programs in this manner.

    • Anonymous says:

      Dog says

      1. I will stipulate that the IMB is an exception and also was the leader in academic integrity and execution when it comes to how institutes should function.

      2. I never said that this infrastructure didn’t work – indeed the pre-1995 time referenced above was a time in which I think these structures worked well

      3. However, now its a different world and I no longer believe the model is optimal, as it once was. For instance, I have observed new increase in the amount of undergraduate research done under the institute umbrella over the last 20 years despite significant increases in undergraduate enrollment.

      4. What is left out in the above and what is crucial to what I am talking about is simple but powerful. In general, startup money for new faculty comes from institutes much more than participating departments. Said faculty hires then had much stronger loyalty and ties to institutes than
      departments. I have seen this dynamic play out many times since 1995 and generally not in a good way.

      5. Caveat: this dog has never been in an institute since club rules forbid dogs from entering that territory.

    • Anonymous says:

      Dog needs editor

      1) that “no increase” not new increase

      2) Dog to Frank: i was merely responding to the post above that claimed the institutes were effective in dealing with this:

      “precludes transformation to more interdisciplinary curriculum and problem solving” (for undergraduates)

      I do not believe this is the case.

    • Old Man says:

      Dog hints at dark but undefined problems of unbalanced loyalties arising from the origin of setup funds. If dog would give us some details, we might see ways to address such problems within the institute paradigm for interdisciplinary programs. Presented, as they are, in abstract, summary form fails to open the door to what might be a problem-solving discussion.
      To anticipate a bit, the kinds of problems dog refers to may be illustrative of the tension that characterizes all universities in which Faculty are expected to be both excellent, dedicated teachers and leading researchers, capable of raising the funds needed to support that research. It’s not evident to me that the Institute framework for supporting interdisciplinary research is responsible for such tensions or interferes with their resolution, which can never be fully satisfactory when total expectations exceed 100% of a Faculty member’s capacity.
      Dog also notes that UG involvement in institute-based research has failed to keep pace with increase in UG enrollment. I understand that he is not blaming the Institutes for this failure, but is pointing out a problem to which institutes do not supply an answer. I doubt whether true collaboration in funded research can be extended to more undergraduates (Institute or not) without an increase in our tenure track faculty, which does not seem to be imminent. Then, how might UO engage more of its UGs in research? Perhaps some of that can be done by offering courses in which a substantial fraction of student effort is spent on trying to solve unsolved problems, which is the intellectual essence of research. Departments can take the lead, if they care enough. Perhaps Karen can provide some incentive?

    • Anonymous says:

      Integrating undergrad research into interdisciplinary institutes is a promising idea. But for how many fields can UO undergrads credibly participatie in “solv[ing] unsolved problems?” This always seems to me to be the pitfall in proposals to expand undergrad research.

    • Old Man says:

      Presumably all of our TTFs do research, so all of them can recognize questions that need answers. In my field, answers to questions are sought by proposing possibilities, identifying distinctive predictions of each of those possibilities, and designing experiments that can distinguish which ones are wrong and which might, in fact, by OK, pending the outcome of a deeper line of questioning. In some manner or other, I presume that all research proceeds in that manner. The challenge for the teacher is to find some level at which the student can participate in the process. Participation in even a small part of it can be eye-opening for UGs, especially if the relation of their efforts to the entire process is made clear to them.

    • Anonymous says:

      Dog in the Dark

      I don’t really want to get into many details in this forum – suffice it to say that its my experience that Institutes have had an unnecessarily large say in some departmental faculty hires. I do agree that we are faculty and facilities limited when it comes to scaling up undergraduate research.

      And to anon above, I don’t believe that “solving unsolved problems” is the primary research gateway – if so, then I have never done any since I haven’t ever solved a damn thing …

      As for incentive – I will just say the University of Delaware has done undergraduate research in a very good way and has for 30 years – its beyond me why other campuses don’t implement their highly successful approach.

    • Oryx says:

      I’d argue that in most fields, UO undergrads *can* “credibly participate in ‘solving unsolved problems.'” There are lots of problems out there, and many can be broken into tractable pieces. I’ve had many undergrads in my lab over the past years, some duds, some fantastic. I don’t see a lack of questions to explore, in most fields, as the barrier to more undergraduate research.

    • Anonymous says:

      Dog agrees with Oryx

      I think a basic barrier is that most undergraduates can not achieve a sufficiently large number of credits or research to replace taking some courses. Without an evolved credit portfolio at the UO, this will continue to be a barrier. Note that
      Delaware solved this problem years ago.

    • Frank says:

      I don’t get it. Most of my UG research students registered for 4 or 5 credits in each quarter that they were working in the lab. Often that was the last 5 or 6 quarters prior to graduation, and characteristically included the summer quarter. I’m sure (?) these credits counted toward graduation. Typically, they wrote an HC thesis in their final quarter. The advice on the Delaware web site sounds much like that which Bio students could get from the Biology Advising Office. Delaware’s major contribution (and it’s s GOOD one) is the central clearing office PLUS good web-based publicity, Can Karen Sprague set that up? It shouldn’t need any legislation.

    • Anonymous says:

      dog says

      your an exception Frank
      you world is different than most.

      I have supervised about 16 HC thesis over the last 4 years
      there is no way those students got 20-25 credits towards
      graduation in completing those research projects – I wish they
      would have. For regular students in my department, they might sign
      up for 2-3 research credits per term (in addition to actually getting paid)
      but that didn’t excuse from taking other courses required for their

      Like I said, different worlds/different experiences – means neither one of us can be right.

    • Anonymous says:

      UCLA, already known for its Gen Ed clusters, is now pioneering capstone undergrad research:

    • Anonymous says:

      Dog to Anon

      Good find: The UCLA clusters are indeed another example of a good working model. Key to its ability to scale is the use of postdocs and advanced graduates students in teaching the capstone seminars and the equivalent “connections courses”). Much of what UCLA has to do is the result of the leadership provided by Judith Smith and Greg Kendrick.

      There 8 year self evaluation of this program is here:

    • Old Man says:

      Old Man also wondered whether Frank’s numbers were a little floppy.

  9. Anonymous says:

    As the original anon and the original penultimate anon…I did go on record in support of tenure on academic freedom grounds. Still, to an audience on UOM who bemoans the misallocation and priority of scarce resources, a higher ed model much more reliant on student tuition dollars and therefore market dynamics; would it not be unreasonable to seek a way to create more flexibility?. Couldn’t a very conservative timely notice provision (say 2-3 years) afford enough protection? I’d think there’d be a middle ground between immediate elimination and indefinite employment. Heck, steal a page from athletics and create a rolling contract structure and a buyout provision.

    • Anonymous says:

      dog agrees

      yes, I think the key concept is “flexibility” or the fluid ability to adapt
      to new circumstances relatively quickly. To me, this is the middle ground.

  10. Anonymous says:

    The key to all of this is faculty exercising its governance authority in the review of academic matters related to our mission. I wouldn’t want administration unilaterally deciding these matters. In addition, language can be written into the collective bargaining agreement about this very thing. I think it’s called “retrenchment” in such contracts.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Dog barks

    What “mission” – oh you mean our last published mission statement
    dating back to 1995?

    Anybody starting a pool on when the CBA will be “ratified”? (rectified, somethingfied?)

    • Anonymous says:

      Good point. Maybe we should start there then. Let’s ask the university to foot the bill for a faculty retreat to establish academic priorities.