Tenure is in the news again. Tenured faculty are being dismissed, boards are modifying tenure, and the Kansas Supreme Court has just made an interesting ruling. A few years ago, Kansas adopted a law saying that tenured teachers can be fired. Shortly thereafter, tenured teachers were fired, and two of them sued, claiming that tenure is a property right that the State of Kansas can't just take away. The Court held that whether or not tenure is a property right, the State of Kansas can modify it into meaninglessness. All across the nation, opponents of academic tenure are taking note.
The UFF USF website and many of its mail operations are still under repair, and we cannot expect them to be back up before midsummer. We apologize for the inconvenience. Meanwhile, announcements are being posted on our backup page at ourusf.org.
UFF members and families are invited to a Rowdies Group Night with the Rowdies on July 28, starting with a Tailgate at 6 pm and then a game at 7:30 pm. It will be at Al Lang Stadium, and kids will be able to participate in the pre-game rally tunnel. For more information, see the flyer. RSVP is necessary (contact Steve Lang), and this is for UFF members and their families - but feel free to join today!
The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida will meet tomorrow Friday at noon on USF Tampa in the Marshall Student Center. We will meet in the Sabal Room, on the third floor, to the right and around the corner from Top of the Palms. We will have lunch at Top of the Palms, and all USF employees are invited.
This is the fourth meeting of the chapter this summer. The remaining meetings will be on the Fridays (at noon) of July 13 and July 27, locations TBD. The locations will be announced on our temporary website as they are determined. Come and check us out.
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We are pleased to announce that longstanding UFF member Nataša Jonoska has been promoted to Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics. Professor Jonoska arrived at USF in 1993, and began work in the then-new field of nanoscale architecture, focusing on DNA assembly and computing. She later extended her work into DNA in biology, especially in ciliates (an ancient and diverse class of unicellular organisms - and a suggestive model for DNA management). For her work, she has received the Rozenberg (Tulip) Award in DNA Computing and Molecular Programming, an AAAS fellowship, a Blaise Pascal professorship, and other honors as well as serving as Principal Investigator for National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health grants awarding over a million dollars support. She has actively served the community: among numerous other things, she was a founding officer of the International Society for Nanoscale Science Computing and Engineering and a co-organizer of the Knotting Mathematics and Art conference at USF, and she currently serves on five editorial boards and five steering committees. And she has been a UFF member since 2002.
She joins UFF members Dima Khavinson and Kathleen de la Pena McCook at that rank; we regret the passing of UFF member and Distinguished University Professor Jim Strange.
The campaign against tenure continues along the two familiar fronts. First, legislatures and boards (and occasionally administrations) seek to ...modify... tenure, often for the sake of "efficiency," which usually means making it easier to dismiss faculty that they don't like. Second, tenured faculty are dismissed or laid off for political or financial reasons; it is a sign of the times that many of the recent rationales are financial.
Catholic University of America, a former member of the American Association of Universities that has been under AAUP censure since 1990, recently decided to lay off 9 % of its faculty in order to eliminate a $ 3.5 million deficit. After a lot of unpleasant publicity, the University announced that the reduction would be obtained by early retirements, but an unofficial (but longstanding) Faculty Assembly opposed the proposal and announced that in a survey, most responding faculty had no confidence in the president and the provost (the official Academic Senate had helped draft the proposal).
Hiram College, one of the Nineteenth century Midwestern liberal arts colleges, recently decided to discontinue its art history, economics, mathematics, music, philosophy, and religious studies majors and create new majors in crime and justice, fine / performing / digital arts, and sports management, and possibly data analytics, engineering, gaming and interactive media, and information technology. This would entail replacing tenured faculty lacking expertise in what President Lori Varlotta called the new liberal arts.
And Vermont Law School is setting aside any fears of the American Bar and planning to de-tenure some faculty in order to address some budgetary problems. Or so President Thomas McHenry claimed, although it was not clear how merely de-tenuring some faculty would address budgetary problems. Board of Trustees chair Colleen Connor may have let the cat out of the bag with the statement that the school had to adapt "to the changing market."
Other institutions are undertaking more traditional assaults on tenure. The University of Tennessee is exploring post tenure review as a mechanism for getting rid of inefficient faculty, while the University of Arkansas is considering "a pattern of disruptive conduct or unwillingness to work productively with colleagues" (a.k.a. lack of "collegiality") as grounds for dismissal. (The USF Board and Administration could not unilaterally impose such policies as they would conflict with the contract - unions are good for something).
Some interesting individual cases have come across the ticker. A University of Kentucky professor required that students buy a book from him and a California State University professor maligned Barbara Bush in a tweet just after her death. Regardless of the circumstances of these cases, the publicity makes it more difficult for the institutions to decide what (if anything) to do.
The University of Missouri is the scene for a cautionary tale about the effect of publicity in these cases. The primary issue was Assistant Professor Melissa Click, who advised students during a Black Lives Matter protest and encouraged protesters to strong arm student reporters. Of course, the confrontation was taped, and the video led to her dismissal after politicians demanded that she be fired. (Missouri's subsequent dismissal of a tenured professor on collegiality grounds seems to have gone under the radar.) The Click affair - and the football team's protests - may have created the impression that the university was indifferent to minority issues, and enrollment declined so much that the university has laid off thirty staffers, and the new president called on faculty to help balance the budget by securing more external funding (!).
Three years after the protests, Missouri is still dealing with the fallout, which is a warning that a short-term solution (like firing somebody, or trying to stifle a football team) might kick the can down the road, but could even make matters worse in the long run. Since tenure is, by definition, a long-term solution to a long-term problem, it is not surprising that undermining or even abolishing tenure is popular among politicians and pundits enamored of short-term solutions.
Tenure appears to be a medieval meme. A vassal who had the right to hold a plot of land (in French, hold is tenir), was a tenant. While academics associate tenure with academic freedom (as in the 1940 statement of the American Association of University Professors), more generally the meme has become a sort of property right for employees in bureaucracies, industries, and academia - especially if unions are around.
If tenure is some kind of property, it shouldn't be easy to summarily take it away, for Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment says: "...nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." This would seem to be the view of the U. S. Supreme Court:
It is not clear where this case goes from here, but it will probably embolden opponents of tenure (and of various other property rights) across the country. This leaves us with two conclusions.
Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, June 29, at noon, on USF Tampa, in MSC 3700 (the Sabal Room).
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