Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Retrenchment Clauses in Faculty Union Contracts: Faculty Rights and Administrative Discretion

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Retrenchment Clauses in Faculty Union Contracts: Faculty Rights and Administrative Discretion

Article excerpt

reshaping academic programs -- cutting some, reorienting some, and investing in others. The retrenchment clauses established managers' rights to academically restructure higher education institutions as they wish. Administrators have become quite sophisticated in developing and protecting such prerogatives, as suggested by the description provided by a former legal counsel to management in Montana:

Under the former Board policy, tenured faculty could be terminated only for financial exigency ... or discontinuance of an entire program or department.... However, as the Montana University system began to experience enrollment and budget Tenured and tenure-track faculty are, depending upon one's rhetorical sensibilities, being retrenched, laid off, riffed, as institutions of higher education reorganize, concentrating resources on academic units that are "central" to their missions. Across the country, universities and colleges are engaged in budget reduction and "planning" exercises that raise the prospect of firing faculty, and that sometimes suggest it is unavoidable. About 45 percent of the 3,331 institutions of higher education are public, and they employ about 71 percent of the roughly 741,000 faculty and enroll about 78 percent of the over 13 million students in higher education. Most of these public institutions (about 61 percent) are unionized |14~. Higher education's workforce is heavily organized, although it is not treated as such in the literature: almost one-third of the faculty workforce is unionized, nearly twice the figure than that for the American workforce. Yet we do not know what faculty contracts have to say about retrenchment, and we know very little about the balance of influence between professionals and managers in shaping the reorganization of colleges and universities, for higher education research focuses on elite institutions, which generally are not unionized, and it adopts the perspective of managers guiding "their" enterprises.

In this article I examine the retrenchment clauses of contracts in forty-two institutions in the 1980s negotiated by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and National Education Association (NEA). I consider the fate of tenure rights and the roles being scripted for faculty and administrators in determining the academy's fate. In analyzing the contracts, I pay special attention to concepts that inform the literature on retrenchment: financial exigency and shared governance. In the 1970s, retrenchment was publicly and legally justified in terms of financial exigency, a concept promoted by the AAUP. In the 1980s, I find that the AAUP's efforts to safeguard tenure by defining financial exigency have not been successful in that the AAUP definition has been rejected by the courts and is largely absent from the contracts. The conventional higher education ideology of shared governance holds that academics have substantial input into decision making regarding "academic" matters such as curriculum and that administrators carry full responsibility and discretion in "financial" matters. I find that contracts provide faculty with a limited and reactive role in retrenchment decisions, whereas administrative discretion is extensive.

With the notable exception of articles in Academe |2, 3, 44~, the higher education literature on retrenchment tends to adopt a managerial perspective and deals very little with unions.(1) The literature falls into one of three camps. The largest cluster deals with financial stress, often giving managers recommendations for making the most of adversity |1, 11, 17, 33, 42, 49, 51~. A second cluster of work analyzes court cases regarding faculty termination, examining court interpretations of concepts such as "financial exigency," and often providing advice to administrators about how to write contracts and terminate faculty in ways that will minimize litigation and ensure success if fired faculty bring suit |19, 27, 50, 59, 68, 75~. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.