Two years ago, when the University of Utah was forced to slice programs in a 8.5 percent budget cut, U. officials decided they needed to better define the institution's policies on termination and faculty tenure.
The result was a 25-page document unanimously adopted Monday by the U. Institutional Council that essentially keeps tenure intact, even during a major financial crisis.However, in accordance with guidelines of the American Association of University Professors, the proposed U. policy does spell out provisions for terminating tenured faculty during what the association calls "financial exigency," a crisis where the very existence of the institution is threatened.
Tenure is a continuous appointment that essentially protects the faculty member's right to speak freely without fear of retaliation. It also provides some job security and is viewed as a benefit of employment at a university or college. However, there are procedures where a tenured faculty member can be dismissed for cause.
The U. proposal is contrary to the proposed draft of a new policy of the State Board of Regents that has circulated at the state's nine colleges and universities. The proposed policy would give the institutions the authority to terminate tenured faculty, if the board declares a major financial crisis exists.
U. Provost James Clayton said the university plans to ask the regents to approve the new U. regulations, allowing the school to operate under them, even if they differ from regent guidelines.
Clayton said the U. faculty would not support the proposed regent policy allowing dismissal of tenured faculty. "There would be great consternation about it."
He said the proposed policy, except if a program is discontinued, would reduce faculty naturally by attrition through retirements, resignations, etc. It would protect both tenured and tenure-track faculty.
The provost said U. faculty feel very strongly that newly-appointed faculty, who eventually would be tenured, should be protected so the overall quality of the faculty can be maintained.
Harden R. Eyring, assistant to the higher education commissioner, said higher education officials are very aware of the faculty's feelings. He said the proposed policy's language is very soft, and the commissioner's office has received considerable feedback on it.
In the next few weeks, meetings are planned with faculty from the various colleges, Eyring said, and the proposed policy could be changed greatly before it ever goes to the regents.
He said Utah System of Higher Education officials have felt it was necessary to write new regulations on faculty reduction during a major financial crisis because the American Association of University Professors guidelines for financial exigency don't have much meaning. It would be rare that an entire state institution would be threatened with closure, as would be the case in financial exigency, but a state school could be forced to cut budgets severely, he said.
Eyring said the faculty "will never approve or cheer any circumstance when tenure is terminated." But, he said, the faculty has legitimate concerns.
Faculty are worried that tenured faculty could be terminated for political or other reasons during a financial crisis. "When you start identifying individual professors, you could say, `Now let's get rid of old professor X who has been a thorn in our side lo these many years,"' Eyring said.
But, he said, the central question is really if the regents can set up a legal framework that empowers the institutions to dismiss tenured and tenure-track faculty in order to deal with a major financial crisis.