July 23, 2012 at 1:00 am

Wayne State's tenure proposal stirs academic controversy

As Wayne State University's faculty negotiates a new labor contract, school officials are offering proposals that faculty members say would abolish tenure for academic staff — and make Wayne State among the first research universities in the nation to do so.

The proposal does this by putting all of the power to eliminate a tenured faculty member into the hands of the administration and eliminating the traditional peer review process, said Charles J. Parrish, president of the American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers, WSU chapter.

"It is pretty clear that … this would eliminate tenure," Parrish said. "There is none of the traditional peer review that is characteristic at every university that I know of any reputation whatsoever."

But WSU President Allan Gilmour dismissed the claims as inaccurate on Monday, saying the purpose of the proposal is to address problems fairly and quickly with a small minority of faculty.

"There are, however, proposals designed to improve the University's ability to evaluate faculty performance and address problems more efficiently than the current contract allows," Gilmour wrote in an email sent to 7,800 employees across campus Monday morning.

"Faculty tenure is an important aspect of academic freedom, and we support it. But it cannot be a place to hide for those whose performance or behavior is poor. We have all seen too many examples of the consequences of not being able to deal directly with problem situations."

Academic tenure protects educators from termination unless there is just cause. Some say it protects educators from an employer's personal, political and discriminatory actions. Others argue that it makes it difficult to get rid of underperforming staff.

A copy of the university's proposal states that a tenured or probationary faculty member "may be terminated for adequate cause."

The proposal further states that adequate cause for termination "shall include but not be limited to" nine reasons. The list includes reductions in force for economic reasons and a program's "substantial curtailment or discontinuance."

Other reasons include "serious professional misconduct" and "failure to perform academic assignments competently."

The issue comes as the AFT, which represents 1.5 million teachers and higher education faculty, plans to meet this weekend at Detroit's Cobo Center for its 2012 convention.

Wayne State's AAUP-AFT union, which represents some 2,000 members, said administration negotiators made the proposal Tuesday during contract talks, which have been ongoing since last month as both sides work toward a collective bargaining agreement. The current contract expires July 31.

"The Administration will soon find that it is not simply bargaining with the university's union," WSU law professor and former union negotiator Michael McIntyre wrote for an upcoming AAUP-AFT union newsletter. "It has engaged itself in a major dispute with the entire academic community that it ultimately cannot win and that will do serious harm to the university due to the highly negative responses its actions will provoke."

Many members were notified of the university's proposal through an email notice last weekend.

The tenure proposal allegedly was prompted by allegations of faculty misbehavior.

It was not clear how many faculty would be affected.

Union members familiar with the proposal said Sunday night it would be a major sticking point in the contract negotiations.

The move is raising eyebrows among faculty — including some who fear it's a union-busting measure.

"This is part of a national movement to crush the American worker," said Jose Cuello, an associate professor in the history department who has worked at the university for more than 20 years.

kkozlowski@detnews.com

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