Regent wants review of university tenure system

BY ARIANA WITT | APRIL 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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AMES — The state Board of Regents approved new procedures for University of Iowa tenured-faculty evaluations at its meeting Thursday. But one regent asked for a review of the tenure system to see its cost effect on all three public universities.

Regent Craig Lang said he would like to better understand how tenure plays into the costs at the UI, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa. He spoke out at the regents' meeting in Ames about devoting more time at future meetings to tenure discussion.

Lang noted he thinks officials should consider varying the evaluation process based on the length of a faculty member's time at a university.

"I know we have to follow equal rights and all those things, but I wonder if we shouldn't take a look at those at the beginning of their career differently from those towards the end," Lang said.

Tenure is a system universities use to allow professors a high level of job security after completing certain requirements.

On Thursday, regents approved revisions to he UI's tenure-review procedures. Now, faculty will undergo a peer evaluation every five years, whereas before, they had an evaluation from the department's executive officer.

Regent President David Miles said he thinks extending discussions could benefit the universities.

"It's important that we find the right way to provide an atmosphere that allows professors to do their work in teaching students but also ensures that we're holding them accountable for what they do," he said. "I think we're on the right track."

All tenured faculty at the UI are reviewed annually by department heads and are reviewed roughly every five years by peers in their respective colleges.

Under revised review policy, the process of the peer evaluations is more formally outlined, making a clearer hierarchy of consequences for a review, which are monitored by the Provost's Office.

Richard Fumerton, UI Faculty Senate president for the 2011-12 academic year, said he believes the university's policies respect the position of tenure as essential to what a professor undertakes in terms of teaching research.

"Faculty recognize they have responsibilities to students, colleagues, the university, and the state of Iowa and that there must be a evaluative process in place to make sure that we are meeting our responsibilities," Fumerton said.

Regent Robert Downer said he wanted more information in terms of the effectiveness of the tenure program.

"Are there any statistics that have been compiled as to how many undergo tenured evaluations and are then considered to be deficient at their job?" Downer asked. "And how many are actually pressed to correct what has been deemed a substandard performance?"

UI interim Provost P. Barry Butler said he is unaware of any such data being compiled but spoke to several reasons UI officials might dismiss a faculty member.

"There are cases were there are increased teaching loads, people come to an agreement that that's a better life to follow for them because their research might be declining," Butler said. "There are cases where people have agreed to reduce their level of effort for lower compensation, and there have been cases where individuals have retired through a discussion, trying to figure out where they're headed in their careers."

He said the new evaluation includes a review of a faculty member's research record, student evaluations and class work, and said the annual review is an intense process with great implications for faculty.

"We all, as administrators, put a great amount of effort into it," Butler said. "It's used, obviously, for salaries and other purposes, but they have always been pretty intense from day one."

Former UI President and law Professor Willard Boyd stressed his support for the tenure system.

"I think it's always appropriate for the Board of Regents to inquire about any aspect of the university," he said. "I am a very strong believer in the tenure system. I think it ensures quality faculty, and I have had a lifelong commitment to that."

But UI Faculty Senate President Ed Dove played down the significance of the comments.

"First of all, it was just one out of the whole board who wanted to look at the tenure system," he said. "I think it is perfectly fine. It's their responsibility to look into the workings of the university at all levels."

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