The president of Texas A&M University at Kingsville has "suspended" the Faculty Senate on his campus -- a move that Senate leaders say amounts to killing the independence of the faculty governing body.
Professors have been invited to elect faculty members to draft a new constitution for a new Faculty Senate, but they have been barred from voting for 15 professors who held senior positions on the old Faculty Senate. The president at Kingsville, Rumaldo Z. Juárez, says that the old faculty body was not cooperating with necessary changes needed to improve the university.
But faculty members say that the real reason Juárez killed the senate was that it opposed his efforts to change the tenure system. Those changes generally increased the emphasis on publications and winning grants -- changes that many professors say run counter to Kingsville's traditional role as a teaching institution.
"What the president has done is to tell us, 'If you aren't going to tell me what I want to hear, then I'm going to get myself a new senate,' " said Jim Phaup, a professor of political science who has taught at Kingsville for 35 years, holding numerous elected positions in the Faculty Senate. He is among those the president disqualified from future faculty elections.
In an interview, Juárez said that changing the senate provided "an opportunity to have some new faculty players involved, those who haven't been involved in all of this controversy." Asked if it might be un-democratic to exclude some professors from a faculty election, he said, "I guess it can be perceived that way," but added that outside reviewers have found that the Faculty Senate was not functioning well and it was "important to do this."
Juárez became president at Kingsville in 2002 and one of his first efforts was to overhaul the tenure system. He asked for faculty input and various committees of the Faculty Senate went to work on the issue. Several faculty members said privately that the president and most professors were in agreement on making tenure reviews more rigorous and on placing some additional emphasis on research.
But faculty leaders balked at the extent of the changes, and amid continued debate, Juárez started applying his standards. As he did so, he rejected 16 of 20 tenure and promotion decisions that had worked their way through the system -- even though many of them had strong backing not only from departments but from university committees and administrators. Faculty votes of no confidence have followed.
John Thompson, a professor of chemistry who has been a Faculty Senate leader, said that there was nothing wrong with tenure and promotion standards evolving. "Historically, this campus has been a teaching institution. That's how it started out, but over the years, and long before [Juárez] got here, we have been turning more and more to research," Thompson said.
But when the president changed the rules unilaterally, and without adequate warning, he said, "he pulled the rug out from under people."
Thompson also questioned whether Juárez was being realistic in expecting research publications and grants from scholars in all departments. "In some departments, it's difficult to get a lot of research money -- it's not there," he said.
Faculty leaders say that the shifting standards and de-emphasis on teaching have hurt morale. Many of those speaking out are senior professors, but the Faculty Senate has published on its Web page accounts of other professors' views. One letter from an anonymous junior faculty member said that the new tenure philosophy appeared "punitive" and that the university did little -- aside from rejecting people for tenure -- to promote a better research environment.
This professor went on to say that new faculty members were being held to standards completely different from those on which previous generations of professors had been hired and promoted.
Juárez said that when he arrived at Kingsville, many faculty members were being promoted in violation of "existing criteria" requiring evidence of quality in research, teaching and service. He also said that requirements were vague and inconsistent, and that the tougher stance he took followed extensive discussion with faculty members.
He makes no apology for requiring more research, noting the Kingsville is classified as a "research intensive university" and has 52 master's programs and 6 doctoral programs. An emphasis on research "really should not be a surprise" to anyone, he said.
Anger over the abolition of the Faculty Senate at Kingsville extends beyond that campus. The Texas Faculty Association issued a statement Thursday saying that it was "positively Orwellian" for the university to say that it was replacing one faculty body with another to improve governance. The statement also said that Juárez's ban on some faculty members being elected to the new committee was "tantamount to the act of a despot."
Juárez said that many faculty members support the changes his is making, and cautioned against talking to the leaders of the old Faculty Senate (who were elected) to evaluate faculty attitudes. Asked for the names of any faculty members who are pleased that he abolished the Faculty Senate, Juárez declined to provide them. "I'm not going to put them on the spot," he said. "That's what I'm here for."
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