By Rob Shimshock
The University of Arkansas system has received only one emailed endorsement of a plan to loosen its tenure policy, according to a Sunday report.
The university extended the comment period on the proposed policy change, under which tenured professors could be fired upon receipt of only one negative review, but has thus far received only one favorable review of the proposal via its feedback email, reported ArkansasOnline.
“It is important to have a method to protect free speech and opinion, as professors sometimes are the leaders in bringing important thought-provoking ideas to light, and we do not want to stifle that,” said James K. Hendren, member of the dean’s science council at University of Arkansas (UA) Little Rock.
“But, a university needs to be able to clean out the deadwood or even a person being paid more than they are worth,” said Hendren, who also serves as a chairman of an entrepreneurial center at the school. “Guaranteed employment does not work well in today’s economy.”
Robert Steinbuch, a UA Little Rock law professor, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that this one positive comment, that did not come from a teaching faculty member, “highlights how the University Counsel’s proposal is devoid of academic input or justification.”
The American Association of University Professors, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and the University of Central Arkansas faculty senate, which is not a part of the UA system, have all stated their opposition to the proposal, Steinbuch noted.
Joshua Silverstein, another UA Little Rock law professor, told TheDCNF that every faculty senate in the University of Arkansas system — except for the Clinton School for Public Service at UA Little Rock, which has not commented — has also “formally condemned the proposal.”
“The idea that tenure is guaranteed employment is simply fiction,” said Silverstein to TheDCNF. “There is no problem to solve. If we are to make any changes, we should increase protections for academic freedom rather than reduce them. For example, we could improve procedural protections for faculty who are being disciplined.”
University counsel has “been able to fire incompetent faculty just fine with the current rules,” Steinbuch told TheDCNF. “So, they haven’t identified the problem they’re solving. They varied their bases from ‘updating’ (which is circular and explains nothing), to making the rules support their existing practices (apparently admitting that they’ve been violating current rules), and making the rules consistent with the law (which is nonsense, because the current rules obviously don’t violate the law & the new rules actually will by breaching existing tenure contacts).”
The proposed changes would affect over 2,000 professors at the five UA system schools which offer tenure.
“I would oppose any changes in the existing rules,” said C. Earl Ramsey to TheDCNF. Ramsey has served as a professor for 50 years at Yale University, Bryn Mawr College, and UA Little Rock, where, although now retired, he still teaches some classes.
“If a faculty member is demonstrably incompetent in a continuing way, she/he can be removed,” Ramsey told TheDCNF. “But the proposed changes make it all too easy to get rid of a faculty member, and for reasons that are fundamentally subjective.”
The proposed changes would damage UA’s faculty recruitment and retention, Ramsey suggested. He and other professors addressed in November to TheDCNF.
The proposed policy would disproportionately harm minorities, including conservatives, who “are a political minority in higher education,” Silverstein also previously told TheDCNF.
Silverstein and Steinbuch instead proposed instituting a committee to address tenure issues, with Silverstein suggesting that the committee should be composed of both professors and administrators, work for at least a year, pass multiple drafts of its policy around UA campuses, and obtain approval from every UA faculty senate.
UA will review feedback, which is due Dec. 15, and will also offer chances for faculty leaders to address their concerns in 2018, UA spokesman Nate Hinkel told ArkansasOnline. The policy needed changes to make it “clearer and more consistent,” Hinkel noted, citing UA’s incorporation of more reasons to suspend its seven-year period — through which faculty apply and obtain tenure — to account for changes to the Family Medical Leave Act.
The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to the UA system for further comment, but received none in time for press.