Wayne State U. and Faculty Union Work to Defuse Conflict Over Tenure Rights

by E Wayne Ross on August 7, 2012

The Chronicle: Wayne State U. and Faculty Union Work to Defuse Conflict Over Tenure Rights

Representatives of Wayne State University and its faculty union are beginning talks this week in an attempt to head off a major clash over tenure rights.

The Michigan university’s administration and the faculty union set up a special committee on tenure last week as part of an agreement to extend the union’s contract, which had been due to expire on July 31, until the end of September. The six-member panel, comprising equal numbers of union and administration officials, has been charged with trying to resolve an escalating conflict over a contract proposal from the administration. Union leaders have denounced the proposal as an attempt to gut tenure protections, an allegation that university officials deny.

The conflict centers on an administration proposal, offered in the early round of contract negotiations, that would in effect scrap previously negotiated job protections for tenured or probationary faculty members, as well as seniority-based protections afforded many academic staff members, and replace them with new rules governing the suspension or termination of such employees.

The administration’s proposed contract language would give the university’s president, or an administrator working on the president’s behalf, the power to terminate such employees for a variety of reasons, including a “failure to meet professional responsibilities,” a “failure to perform academic assignments competently,” and a “financially based reduction in force.”

Union officials have denounced the proposed contract language as an attempt to do away with tenure and have accused the university’s chief negotiator of explicitly characterizing it as such. Last week the AAUP’s national office began circulating a petition protesting the proposed contract language, which it described as offering “extremely broad” justifications for termination and replacing faculty peer review with the judgment of administrators.

In an e-mail sent to Wayne State’s employees last month, President Gilmour argued that the proposal was “being misinterpreted” as intended to eliminate tenure when instead its goal is to give the administration more leeway to remove faculty members who are not doing their jobs.

“Faculty tenure is an important aspect of academic freedom, and we support it,” he said. “But it cannot be a place to hide for those whose performance or behavior is poor.”