Several University of Missouri at Columbia faculty members within the last three years say leaders pressured them to withdraw their tenure and/or promotion applications, a faculty report says.
A few more faculty members reported being pressured to apply for non-tenure-track positions before they even applied for tenure, the document says. It also says some reported pressure to delay applications for promotion.
Over all, the Mizzou Faculty Affairs Committee report says 15 anonymously interviewed people “reported on events occurring since 2020 in four colleges.” About three-quarters were women.
“We decided that gender was about as much as we could report,” said Charles Munter, the committee’s chair and a tenured associate professor. “We didn’t even report what college these folks were in because there was too much fear of being identified.”
Christian Basi, a university spokesman, contested the report.
“Where is the concern in telling someone, ‘Hey, it may not meet the standards right now; do you want to think about this’?” Basi said.
“It is expected that department chairs and deans will have those kinds of conversations as dossiers are submitted,” he said. “And it is, again, up to the individual professor, following those conversations, whether they’re going to voluntarily withdraw or continue with the process.”
“This whole process is designed to ensure that the highest-quality faculty remain at the university,” he said.
“We are not changing any of our standards related to the tenure process,” he said. “We hold all of our faculty to the highest standards.”
The five-page report, which The Columbia Missourian reported on earlier, said the administrators “who were identified as sources of pressure spanned a range of types of positions, including department chairs, deans (and associate deans) and provost (and associate provost), though department chairs were the most frequently identified.”
But the report also points to Mun Y. Choi, who is both president of the Mizzou system and chancellor of the flagship Columbia campus. It notes that he denied seven promotion and tenure applications when he became interim chancellor in 2020, and, “in nearly all of those cases, his decision contradicted the majority opinions across all previous votes in the levels of review.”
Mizzou’s elected faculty representation body censured Choi later that year “for failure to read the written determination/recommendations produced by the Campus Promotion and Tenure Advisory Committee.”
“As policy dictates, the final decisions regarding promotion and tenure are made by the chancellor,” the report says. “But, as established previously, peer review—both internal and external—should play a crucial role in informing the chancellor’s decisions. There are established procedures for ensuring the promotion and tenure process is both rigorous and fair, with clear guidelines for appeals and hearings at any stage at which there might be a negative decision that the applicant wishes to challenge.”
“The findings of this report lead us to question whether this established process is being circumvented,” it says. “If applicants are being pressured to withdraw their applications, this does at least three things: (a) it shields upper administration—and the chancellor in particular—from having to deny applications; (b) it precludes faculty from enacting their ‘advisory authority’ in their professional responsibility of peer review, especially if applications are withdrawn (or not even submitted) at the department level, before the peer review process has even begun; and (c) it strips individual faculty of any recourse for appealing the decision, especially if they have withdrawn their applications ‘voluntarily.’”
The report says that in eight out of the 15 cases, “insufficient external funding,” which Munter said means grant funding, was the “stated reason” for the administrative “pressure.”
“Three others said they were told explicitly that their case would not be strong enough at the chancellor level (with possible references to Academic Analytics data),” the report says. “A few felt their interest in applying for promotion was brushed aside (e.g., ‘maybe later’; ‘too much going on right now’) or were told that they were trying to go up ‘too early.’” Academic Analytics is a higher education data company that Munter said collects data about Mizzou faculty and provides rankings and statistics.
“A common story from our participants,” the report says, “was that their department chair or dean alerted them that their application for promotion or tenure would likely not be approved by the chancellor because they were lacking in some specific area, typically external funding. Different conjectures were raised about these administrators’ motivation.”
The report also includes statistics on overall tenure and promotion application approvals, denials and withdrawals, including, for some years, at what stage the applicant withdrew. They show an uptick in withdrawals this year, early in the process.
Basi said the university extended the tenure clock—the regular time frame tenure-track faculty have to earn tenure—by a year due to the pandemic. He said that likely played a factor in people deciding to withdraw.
Applications go through seven review levels, the report says—from a department/division committee, to the department/division chair, to two college/school-level steps, a campus committee, the provost and, finally, the chancellor.
In the 2020–21 academic year, there was one withdrawal at the department level, three at the college level and three more at higher levels, so seven total. There were 37 approvals and no denials.
The next academic year, there were still seven withdrawals, but six came at the department level and only one at higher levels. There were 43 approvals and three denials.
So far this academic year, there have been 11 withdrawals, 10 at the department level and just one at higher levels. The total approval and denial numbers aren’t yet clear.
The report includes data going back to the 2005–06 academic year, though there are a few years missing from the data.
“Based on the available data, the average number of denials of promotion or tenure applications between 2005 and 2019 was fewer than two per year,” the report says. “In 2020, the number of denials spiked to seven. Since then, there have been fewer denials (0 in 2021 and 3 in 2022), but a spike in withdrawals. And in this year and last, there have been dramatic increases in withdrawals at the earliest stage.”
But Basi said withdrawal data preceding 2020 are impossible to compare with the past three years’ data because, before 2020, the university only collected data on withdrawals that occurred at the provost level.
“That’s very, very late in the process,” he said.
“The lower numbers that are in the report are likely not accurate because there is no data at the other stops during the process,” he said.
He did say, “We’re having continuing conversations with the faculty about [the report], and we expect to continue those conversations through the summer and into the fall.”