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New Post-Tenure Review Policy Causing Controversy

Is it the end of tenure as we know it?

Since 1996, the post-tenure review policy has been upheld in all 26 schools under the University System of Georgia (USG). However, in a Board of Regents meeting in the Kendeda Building on October 12th and 13th, board members unanimously decided to pass a revised post-tenure review policy. These revisions have caused controversy among Georgia professors and even some students.

Developed in the 19th century to reduce political influence in education, tenure is a permanent position at a college or university that gives professors job security and protects their academic freedom. Tenured professors can only be terminated for justifiable cause or under extraordinary circumstances.

Before October 13th, the post-tenure review policy included reviews in five-year intervals for all tenured faculty members. University presidents had the power to review, revise, and approve their institution's post-tenure policies.

The final draft of post-tenure review policy revisions, first proposed during the September 9th meeting, was accepted at the October meeting. According to some, the new Board of Regents proposals seem to be a push to end tenure at USG institutions:

  • Adding severe consequences for a failed improvement plan including the end of tenure for an individual professor, loss of salary, and/or job.

  • Adding a "corrective post-tenure review" after two consecutive years of unsatisfactory annual reviews.

  • Adding "student success" and "professional development" to annual reviews. This means the annual review now has five categories and if a review is unsatisfactory in at least one of the five categories, the whole review is considered unsatisfactory.

  • After one unsatisfactory annual review, a "remediation plan" can be given to that professor.

  • Ending tenure protections by allowing institutions to exercise remedial action outside of the jurisdiction of Board Policy on Grounds for Removal or Procedures for Dismissal.

  • Taking back tenure decision power from institution presidents.

As of October 13th, these policies have been implemented in 25 of the 26 USG institutions. Since the implementation of the new policy, USG professors, including many from Georgia Tech, have voiced disapproval. A petition in opposition to the new policy has gathered over 1,500 signatures. These professors request the following:

  • Erase any policy language concerning firing without cause a professor with tenure.

  • If proceeding with a policy on post-tenure review, tie any remedial actions directly to the current policy concerning dismissal and its specified due process protections.

  • Strike any policy language concerning a desire of the BOR to remove tenure decisions from local presidents.

  • Do not add a fourth category of "student success" to faculty annual reviews.

  • If "student success" indeed becomes part of annual reviews, mandate a faculty-led definition process.

  • If not these steps, then delay any vote on these matters to allow for faculty response through duly elected bodies across the state."

Dr. John Colton, a mechanical engineering professor at Georgia Tech, told Inside Higher Ed that the new post-tenure review policy seems to "completely eliminate any due process," an integral part of tenured professor protections.

A professor who spoke with The Jacket said:

I'm personally not a fan of tenure. I think it protects too many non-performers. However, the Board of Regents never made it clear why they are getting rid of it. What problem are they trying to solve? And why is getting rid of tenure the best solution?

The professor explained some of the effects that this policy change may have on Georgia Tech:

The new Board of Regents policy potentially undermines the benefits of tenure by removing its strengths. Faculty could be fired for their political or personal [beliefs]… It may become more expensive in the long run as Tech is forced to offer higher salaries and other forms of support/compensation to make up for tenure… [Tech faculty] will not want to enter into high-risk, long-term research projects out of fear of losing their jobs.

The path to tenure is often a long and challenging process. It is common for tenure-track professors to work five to six years in a probationary period before even being considered as a candidate for tenure. After that, appointments and the approval process can take months.

Despite the difficulty and length of the approval process, the possibility of tenure attracts talent to universities and colleges. For schools like Georgia Tech, this talent is vital for creating the next generation of innovation. Tenured professors are given academic freedom, protection from censorship, and a voice in university decisions that impact their future curriculum and research.

A tenured professor is not infallible and can be fired despite common belief. Tenure gives professors the right to due process and requires a justifiable cause for firing. This can prevent professors from being fired after false accusations, a lack of immediate results, or setbacks in research. As a result, tenured professors do not have to be in constant fear of being ousted and can take risks in their research and their teaching.

Tenure does have flaws, however. Tenure can cause complacency and make removing an underperforming professor very difficult due to the costly legal process involving months of negotiating with the university administration, boards, and courts. In addition, tenure can take a driven professor who is passionate about research and teaching and reduce them to an employee focusing on salary advancements and other benefits. As David Boies, an American lawyer, once said:

"You wouldn't go to a hospital, you wouldn't go to a law firm where the doctors and lawyers were not retained on merit, where they all had tenure regardless of competence. Parents feel the same way about schools that they send their children to."

The future of this university mainstay in Georgia education is uncertain. For many professors impacted by the new post-tenure review policy, the Board of Regents seems to be pushing for the abolition of tenure in the university system. Will this new strategy increase competency among faculty, as the Board of Regents alleges, or will it end vital academic protections that are foundational to universities, as professors claim? //

Angela Hill


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