Post-Tenure Evaluations Criticized at UMSL

By Grodsky, Dawn | St. Louis Journalism Review, July 2000 | Go to article overview

Post-Tenure Evaluations Criticized at UMSL


Grodsky, Dawn, St. Louis Journalism Review


A post-tenure review policy that could result in the firing of tenured professors is being proposed for the University of Missouri system. Many faculty members at University of Missouri-St. Louis are concerned about what this could mean in terms of their job security and academic freedom, as well as what impact the policy could have on retaining and attracting new faculty.

A draft of the policy was released May 5 by a committee comprised of three faculty members, from each of the four UM campuses--St. Louis, Columbia, Kansas City and Rolla. The three-page draft states, "Tenure is designed to foster creativity and to provide academic freedom by protecting faculty from unfair dismissal based on arbitrary or discriminatory practices."

That is exactly what some faculty fear will happen if post-tenure review is initiated. Tim McBride, a tenured faculty member with UMSL's economics and public policy program, called the proposal too political and said it "seems like a popularity contest to me. The steps are too driven by the votes of one's colleagues."

McBride, who said he's trying to keep an open mind about the plan, doesn't like the fact the draft policy has only two sentences in support of tenure--which means a lifetime appointment that faculty earn over what can be a 10-year process. For the remainder of the three pages, the proposal details the whys and hows of dismissing tenured professors. "It's pretty weak in standing up to the principles of tenure," he said. "Tenure is supposed to represent the minority view, the unpopular research."

The proposal

The policy goes on to state, "However, tenure does not protect faculty from the consequences of not performing satisfactorily their duties to the university... .Consequently, the performance of each faculty member is reviewed annually in the areas of teaching, research and service. In addition, since periodic broader reviews provide a better measure of long-term performance, a cumulative review of each tenured faculty member will be employed for each five-year period subsequent to receipt of tenure."

The policy says professors with unsatisfactory five-year reviews can ultimately lose their jobs.

Professors who earn satisfactory reviews would simply continue to be evaluated normally each year, and cumulatively every five years. Those with unsatisfactory five-year reviews would have to formulate a "professional development plan" for improvement. If after three years, the evaluation is still unsatisfactory, the faculty member would be reviewed by the Tenure and Promotion Committee and the Provost or Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. They could recommend extension of the development plan or dismissal for cause.

The committee, which was charged with developing a plan to review tenured faculty for satisfactory/unsatisfactory performance with guidelines, completed its draft report well before its July 1 deadline. Now, members are soliciting comments from faculty statewide and will meet again in October for final revisions, said Terry. Thiel, a committee member and tenured professor of biology at UMSL.

Then the document will go to UM System President Manuel Pacheco, who initiated the proposal, and the Board of Curators for approval. Thiel said she didn't believe the president and board would change any language without first bringing it back to the committee.

"There has been no intervention by the higher administration. (President Pacheco) has seen the drafts," she said, noting one of Pacheco's assistants sat in but did not participate in any of the committee meetings.

Supporting academic freedom

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) opposes post-tenure review. The organization expanded on its position last year in response to what has become a growing national trend.

The AAUP believes post-tenure review should not be undertaken for the purpose of dismissal but suggests other formal disciplinary procedures. …

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