The Wayne State administration and the faculty’s union are rapidly reaching the deadline for contract negotiations, and neither side is showing signs of giving in.
The main point of disagreement is over the process by which tenured faculty members could be reviewed if complaints are made against them, possibly leading to dismissal. The union members’ contract with the university expires July 31.
“Our contention is that tenure does not mean that you don’t get to be reviewed,” said Margaret Winters, associate provost and associate vice president for academic personnel.
Under current procedures, tenured faculty members are reviewed every year for merit raises – small salary raises that come after a year of successful performance. The process in question, Winters said, would come about if problems were determined during the salary review.
According to the language of the proposal WSU gave to the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers, also known as AAUP-AFT, July 17, the process would begin with the professor and union being given a written statement of reasons for the actions being taken. The associate vice president for academic affairs would meet with the professor and a union representative to give information “they believe may merit consideration by WSU.”
The professor would then have a chance to discuss the action with WSU President Allan Gilmour. If no agreement is reached, his or her dismissal from the university would be confirmed.
This is different from the current procedure for dismissal of tenured faculty members from the university, in which a seven-member hearing panel is drawn from a body of 24 academic peers created by the Academic Senate. After hearing evidence, the committee makes a recommendation to the president. If he decides the professor should be dismissed, he makes that recommendation to the Board of Governors. The BOG, in turn, creates a committee that reviews the record and makes a recommendation for a final decision.
The union has concerns that the new proposal would take the decision-making power away from faculty members.
“It’s an entirely administrative process,” political science professor and AAUP-AFT President Charles Parrish said. “There’s no peer review in this. None.”
Parrish expressed concern, as well, about the role of the BOG being removed.
The current procedure for investigating dismissal charges against a professor take too long, Winters said.
“If there are performance issues, there is a process, but it takes two to three years for the process to play out,” she said. “That’s a very long time to deal with somebody who is having real performance issues.”
The proposal submitted by the administration would cut the process in half, Winters said.
“It would be a real change in terms of how this is done. It would give us a lot of the flexibility we need,” she said.
Parrish said the process takes only seven to eight months, though, and the various committees and recommendations along the way are important because tenure takes so long to achieve and should not be taken lightly.
“It should not be easy to do this. You should have to follow the rules,” Parrish said.
While the process would change to make it shorter, Winters said, faculty members would still be involved.
“A faculty/administration panel would establish the remediation plan with the person being reviewed and elected faculty committee in the department would review outcomes,” Winters wrote in an email.
According to Winters, the recommendation would come from the college dean to Provost Ronald Brown, who would be assisted by Winters herself. This was presented in an amended version of the initial proposal given to the union, she wrote.
“We respect the faculty process. We respect the fact that there have to be safeguards, but it has to be balanced with flexibility,” Winters said.
The path to becoming tenured is long and requires a significant amount of work. Professors hired on a tenure track must build their credentials for presentation and undergo multiple reviews.
Once tenure is achieved, it generally means the professor is employed continuously unless there is cause for termination.
“Tenure is important because it really is the basis of academic freedom,” Parrish said.
The proposal, Winters said, is not at all a move to end tenure at the university.
“We are absolutely adamant that it is not our intention, and it’s not in the language of the article,” she said.
The proposal comes in part as an effect of a lack of state funding to the university, Winters said. The university’s financial situation is “not the rosiest,” she said.
“We have to, as a result, become increasingly flexible in how we can manage our resources,” she said. “Given the bleakness of higher education finances, our concern is that if someday something has to give, we’re able to move and save the larger university.”
Tenured professors are paid more than other faculty members due to having been at the university for a number of years and receiving merit raises each year.
“We’re not trying to save money by getting rid of the tenured professors,” Winters said.
If a decision is not reached by July 31, the union could ask for an extension of their contracts. If necessary, a mediator could be called in to help reach an agreement.
Parrish said he doubts the issue will be resolved by the July 31 deadline, and possibly not even by the time classes resume Aug. 29.
Union members staged a protest in front of the Faculty/Administration Building at 10 a.m. July 27 as negotiations were underway inside.
“We’ll go on bargaining,” Parrish said. “We would like to not have a strike. That is not a helpful thing to Wayne State or to the union.”