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Read Their Lips: No New Tenure

March 16, 2009

In a one-sided vote, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System’s Board of Regents decided Friday to eliminate tenure for all new faculty hires. Though top system officials lauded the move, many faculty groups pledged to take the fight to the state Legislature.

The 14-member board is made up of eight gubernatorial appointees and six representatives elected by the system’s faculty, staff and students. The appointed members have full votes and elected members have half a vote. By a vote of 8.5 to 2.5, the Regents approved a revision of the system’s employment policy that eliminates the possibility of tenure for all new faculty hires.

In the future, the system will offer new faculty hires only short-term contracts. The two faculty representatives, one of the student representatives and the appointed vice chair were the only members to vote against the changes.

System officials, many of whom had been silent about their support of the changes during prior debate, finally offered comment after the regents’ decision.

Richard A. Bean, chair of the KCTCS board, said the system would have greater hiring flexibility without the tenure system. As demand for instructors in various disciplines fluctuates, he said the system would be better able to make appropriate hiring decisions with faculty members on short-term contracts. Hypothetically illustrating his point, he used the example of having the ability to hire more Spanish instructors if demand for the language were great, and to retain a limited number of Latin instructors if there were little demand.

“Our objective is not to find ways to let people go, but to educate the people of this great commonwealth with flexibility,” said Bean, emphasizing that the regents had been discussing this matter well before Kentucky’s budget crisis, and the national economy, took a turn for the worse.

Michael B. McCall, the system's president, echoed that sentiment. Citing research he presented to the regents when initially proposing the changes in December, he noted that tenure-track contracts for faculty have been declining, while term contracts have increased steadily. From 1999 through 2007, an average of more than 40 tenure-track faculty were hired each year. This number, however, began to decline in 2006-2007, when only 30 new hires were tenure-track. The system began allowing full-time faculty members to sign short-term contracts in 2004, when only six chose this option. In 2006-2007, 90 new full-time faculty members were signed to short-term contracts.Friday's changes to the system's employment policy, McCall argued, institutionalize what has recently been the trend in hiring.

McCall also suggested that, as a result of eliminating tenure, the system may see a rise in the number of full-time faculty. Currently, he said, the economy has forced the institution to hire more adjunct and part-time faculty than he would prefer.

Although many faculty members expressed concern about the future of academic freedom in a post-tenure environment, McCall said he did not consider their concerns valid.

“Tenure, in my professional opinion, is not a protection of academic freedom, but that’s the argument that has been made through the years.” McCall said. “Our board has already adopted a policy on academic freedom [about a decade ago].I just feel strongly that having tenure doesn’t guarantee academic freedom in any way. I’m a strong supporter of academic freedom. I would never want to stifle that.”

New hires to the system will be offered a series of three one-year contracts before having the opportunity to sign a two-year contract. Any exceptions to these short-term contracts must be approved by the system president. Although McCall said he believed this process is fair, he noted that the system was open to “reviewing the process” in the future.

“This is just how we’ve started it,” McCall said of the policy changes. “That’s not to say this is the best way. In light of some of the discussions we’ve heard, if there’s a way to improve the contract process, by all means we’ll do it. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a peer-review system.”

Faculty who lobbied against the employment changes packed the regents’ hearing room Friday in a show of support for the tenure system. Some reported that they were treated more like suspects than spectators.

David Cooper, president of the Kentucky Faculty and Staff Alliance -- a local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers -- said the meeting room had increased security for the vote, adding that he and others were followed by police. He also noted that faculty members holding signs that read “keep tenure” were asked to stay within a taped-off area behind the building, before and after the meeting.

“That was just indicative of the way they operate,” Cooper said of the regents. “It was really insulting, like they thought faculty would go in there and disrupt the meeting or start a fight. This was a done deal from the beginning. Even though our faculty representatives gave impassioned speeches, [the regents] were not persuaded by logic.”

Cooper said faculty interest groups are already planning to lobby the state Legislature to overturn the regents' decision, adding that they had “no other recourse.” He also said he would look to the American Association of University Professors to censure the system.

AAUP officials noted that there is a “very analogous precedent” for the Kentucky system’s decision. In 1971, the Virginia Community College System elected to do away with tenure for all new hires -- a policy the system maintains today. Four years later, the AAUP censured the Virginia system, arguing that its “actions had been taken without the faculty's previous knowledge and contrary to the faculty's expressed wishes.”

The system was removed from the AAUP’s censure list only in 2003 when it allowed for further “academic due process” in the contract process and a statement ensuring “that indefinite retention -- after six years of full-time faculty service -- is presumed unless the administration demonstrates cause for termination in an appropriate hearing.”

Gregory F. Scholtz, director of the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance, said it was too soon to say whether or not a censure is in order for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

 

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