How to Run a Railroad, Part III…or If I were a Dean, Provost, or Chancellor…: Post-Tenure Review

This is the third and final posting of three analyses of the current struggle @ UWM  by Margo Anderson, Distinguished Professor of History & Urban Studies. Anderson has been active in faculty governance at UWM since 1977. She researches the history of official statistics, especially the United States census.

Act 55 has upended life on University of Wisconsin campuses around the state as faculty, staff and students have started to cope with the devastating $250 million budget cut to the university system and the removal of the statutory authority for faculty and staff governance from state statute.

One of the other issues to fall out of the Act 55 changes is “post tenure review.” The tenure task force and media reports indicate that the “public” has concerns about the lack of accountability of tenured faculty, and hence wants procedures to discipline or fire alleged slackers among the faculty. See headlines such as “Regent John Behling: UW needs post-tenure review policy to satisfy accountability concerns.

Most faculty were actually quite surprised to hear of this concern since five year post tenure review has been regent policy in UW since 1992, and tenured faculty well remember undergoing a post tenure review, or conducting them of their colleagues. What’s the problem, we’ve asked? Fixing something else that ain’t broke?

Well….as we also know, the faculty compensation system is broke, and has collapsed since the late aughts. The old system was based on an annual merit review. Faculty were required to produce an “annual summary of academic activities” and be rated by one’s executive committee, dean, provost and chancellor for salary increments. Once the state government stopped providing state employees with a salary package, the merit review process fell into disuse, and with it went a robust campus wide systematic post tenure review process. What’s left for robust faculty personnel review is the promotion review (assistant to associate, and associate to full), which given the normal pace of promotions, is likely to take place in an individual’s first 15 years of employment. Since most careers span 30 years, there’s a hole in the personnel system.

So putting it back requires retrieving the practices from about 1992 to roughly 2010, and then auditing them for performance and potential change.

So…if I were a dean, I’d have my staff make a list of all faculty by rank and salary, identify the date of the individual’s last promotion and post tenure review, and see how many of the faculty are “due” for a post tenure review. I’d report that to the Provost who would presumably prepare a campus level report to the Faculty Senate. With that information in hand, faculty governance, perhaps the divisional committees, could prepare guidance to executive committees (internally) and UW System (externally) about how the post tenure review process currently works and could be improved.

But of course, I’m not a dean….so I can’t do that….and thus I await the uninformed guidance of state legislators and regents, who rail about faculty not doing their jobs.