“Wayne State Administration Proposes the abolition of tenure – Jim Greene, Chief Negotiator Delivers the Message!”

Oedipa Maas first pointed this out to me in this comment, but I too received an email from EMU-AAUP President Susan Moeller with the subject line “Wayne State Administration Proposes the abolition of tenure – Jim Greene, Chief Negotiator Delivers the Message!”  For those who don’t know:  Greene was notorious as the EMU administration’s lawyer at the table for years, he seems to specialize on trying to break up unions, and he did not exactly have a reputation as a happy-go-lucky guy.

Anyway, Moeller shares the actual contract language being proposed, but perhaps more interesting is the statement from Anca Vlasopolos, the Wayne State Faculty’s chief negotiator.  I include the whole statement below, but here’s a key quote:

The Administration proposed to dismember Article VII, Past Policies, which enshrines our rights to grieve violations of Board of Governors Statutes on such matters as appointments, continuing tenure, termination, and dismissal policies and procedures for faculty (Statute 2.51.01) and for academic staff (Statute 2.52.01), by striking out these two provisions. To replace these two Statutes, the Administration has proposed an unnamed, unnumbered Article, written in great haste whose main thrust is to abolish tenure and ESS at Wayne State University. When asked if the Administration’s proposed article would end tenure at the University, Chief Negotiator James Greene stated, “It would have that effect, yes.”

In the course of the discussion as to what this article addresses, Margaret Winters maintained that there are faculty who do nothing and that, “We feel somewhat frustrated by an inability to act.” Doug Whitman, of the Administration’s team, conceded that the instances of faculty misbehavior were rare. Our response was simple: if this is the case, and we need to be shown that it is true, it is managerial incompetence and/or laziness that have led to such a situation. We have perfectly good Statutes for de-tenuring unproductive bargaining-unit members. The Union does not shield people who don’t work for their salaries.

The Union, however, protects due process, so that a vindictive administrator cannot falsely accuse someone. A candidate for de-tenuring has the right now to go before a panel of peers to defend him or herself against such accusations. The Administration admits that the present problem is rare, but it refuses to use the procedures available even in these alleged rare cases. Their solution? Abolish the provisions protecting tenure and establish a cudgel to hold over the head of all faculty and academic staff in order to deal with a few alleged miscreants.

I have a feeling that this is a “shot across the bow,” so to speak.   I wouldn’t necessarily say that the administration is “bluffing,” but the WSU administration has to be aware that the faculty would never agree to this in a million-zillion years and it would indeed make Wayne State the first R1 university in the country to due away with tenure.  If this were to happen, then I think it’s fair to say WSU would stop being an R1 because every one of their top faculty who could would leave (and with good reason), and they’d never-ever be able to hire any high-quality research faculty again.  So to me, this is a little like the Green and the WSU administration holding a loaded gun to its head and saying “dare me to pull the trigger.”

Of course, we could also debate here the pros and cons of tenure, whether the protections afforded by it do go too far, whether or not their should be some kind of regular review even for full professors, whether or not the union actually matters more than a system of tenure, etc.  But that’s a different post.  Anca Vlasopolos’ full statement is after the break.

Bargaining Brief, July 17, 2012

In an Assault on Academic Freedom the Administration Proposes to Abolish Tenure and ESS at the University

Anca Vlasopolos, Chief Negotiator

The Administration’s Chief Negotiator dropped a bombshell at the negotiating session of July 17th: he proposed abolishing tenure and ESS at the University. This means for everyone, from those who have had tenure for decades to those who were awarded it this year. It would make Wayne State University the first research university in the country to have abolished tenure and the academic freedom that it protects.

The session began with the Union introducing two articles with new language and, in the spirit of good-faith bargaining, offering a revised form for union dues at the request of the Administration. Also at the suggestion of the Administration, the Union introduced an additional phrase to its proposal language on Articles pertaining to tenure and promotion.

In response, the Administration Team continued its relentless, senseless, and profitless attack on the faculty and academic staff at WSU. The Administration proposed to dismember Article VII, Past Policies, which enshrines our rights to grieve violations of Board of Governors Statutes on such matters as appointments, continuing tenure, termination, and dismissal policies and procedures for faculty (Statute 2.51.01) and for academic staff (Statute 2.52.01), by striking out these two provisions. To replace these two Statutes, the Administration has proposed an unnamed, unnumbered Article, written in great haste whose main thrust is to abolish tenure and ESS at Wayne State University. When asked if the Administration’s proposed article would end tenure at the University, Chief Negotiator James Greene stated, “It would have that effect, yes.”

In the course of the discussion as to what this article addresses, Margaret Winters maintained that there are faculty who do nothing and that, “We feel somewhat frustrated by an inability to act.” Doug Whitman, of the Administration’s team, conceded that the instances of faculty misbehavior were rare. Our response was simple: if this is the case, and we need to be shown that it is true, it is managerial incompetence and/or laziness that have led to such a situation. We have perfectly good Statutes for de-tenuring unproductive bargaining-unit members. The Union does not shield people who don’t work for their salaries.

The Union, however, protects due process, so that a vindictive administrator cannot falsely accuse someone. A candidate for de-tenuring has the right now to go before a panel of peers to defend him or herself against such accusations. The Administration admits that the present problem is rare, but it refuses to use the procedures available even in these alleged rare cases. Their solution? Abolish the provisions protecting tenure and establish a cudgel to hold over the head of all faculty and academic staff in order to deal with a few alleged miscreants.

This article proposes that any faculty or academic-staff member “tenured or probationary,” may be terminated for “adequate cause.” What is “adequate cause” in the Administration’s view? Pretty much anything it decides, since the article states, “Adequate cause for termination … shall include but not be limited to…,” for faculty, “failure to meet professional responsibilities, including teaching and scholarly and research productivity,” and “failure to perform academic assignments competently.” For academic staff, causes are “failure to meet professional responsibilities, including professional assignments and professional development/achievement,” and “failure to perform academic assignments competently.”

Who will determine if a member fails to show adequate competence, professional development/achievement, scholarly and research productivity? Why, only the President and his/her designee. Tenure-review hearing panels for faculty and academic staff, selected by the Provost upon the recommendation of Policy Committee of the Academic Senate, would be gone. Any peer review: gone. In effect, peer review will be replaced by the judgment of myriad administrators, chairs, deans, directors, etc. who will be able to initiate proceedings against anyone they choose. Yes, we can grieve, and we can go to arbitration, but even the best arbitrators are imperfect judges of academic performance. In the meantime, the “terminated” member is without a job, without salary, and without health insurance.

Moreover, in both this article and in the changes in language proposed by the Administration in Article X, Layoff and Recall Procedures, there is no longer need for a financial exigency to be declared to fire bargaining-unit members. What we will have are “financially based reduction[s] in force,” i.e. an edict from the President that some percentage reduction in budget is needed and bargaining unit members will be fired to achieve it.

This is the future of faculty and academic staff as envisaged by this Administration, and these are the policies that they propose that are contrary to the statutes of the Board of Governors that presently protect tenure. When this was pointed out, Chief Negotiator Greene stated that we “can’t remove statutes, but we can take an agreement that requires a statutory change by the Board of Governors.” Thus, the Administration announced its intent to get an agreement on their proposals that would require the Board of Governors to rewrite their statutes. We once thought that the Board was in charge of what statutes it adopted and never contemplated that it would become a mere creature of the Administration’s Chief Negotiator.

Needless to say, we will fight these outrageous attacks against the very core of academic values and academic freedom at the University we continue to serve with pride.

5 responses to ““Wayne State Administration Proposes the abolition of tenure – Jim Greene, Chief Negotiator Delivers the Message!”

  1. At a very high level my concern is more that we maintain relevance.

  2. Think of it as a recruitment tool. For other universities.

  3. Alex is right – both for faculty and for students. The market value of a WSU degree would be diminished by the mess that ending tenure would cause, and the exodus of professors would hurt students who enrolled with the expectation of being able to work with those professors. I could not, in good conscience, encourage my undergrads to consider applying to grad programs at Wayne, if Wayne pushes ahead with this.

  4. Dimitris at SFU in Vancouver, BC

    I am afraid that the idea of faculty flight will not really fly as an argument. In today’s job market, with the current oversupply of excellent young scholars facing little by way of job prospects we delude ourselves if we think we are that precious to any institution. Tenured faculty (I count myself as one) should think more about this as I am afraid that this is a bluff any administration will easily call. As for the individual faculty member herself, when faced with the need to actually do something about it, she will be in exactly the same position in which most of the American labour force finds itself: over-leveraged, overcommitted (personally, socially, economically) and unable to take bold steps. This needs to be fought, but not with delusional ideas about how special and irreplaceable we are (as great as many among us may be as teachers and researchers).

    • Let me put it this way: I am proud of my academic and scholarly achievements, but they aren’t of an “R1″ caliber and I am under no delusion that I could simply pick up and go to some other university. And I’m okay with that since I like EMU, the area, etc. On the other hand, if EMU suddenly got rid of tenure, I probably would have a better chance on the job market, and I am very sure we would not attract the quality of talent we attract now for new jobs.

      And again, we’re talking about Wayne State here, an R1 with a medical school, a law school, engineering, probably 40 PhD programs, etc. The only way you can sustain a university like that is to attract some “hot shots” in their fields, the kind of people who tend to move around every 4 or 5 years as they climb up the prestige ladder. Without a system of tenure, WSU would never ever in a zillion years be able to “hire away” from U of Michigan that up and coming star to head a new multi-million dollar research lab (or whatever). And if they can’t bring in some big name scholars in these important fields, then they will soon not be even close to an R1.

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