Faculty tenure is a guarantee of academic freedom and educational quality, but does not exempt tenured faculty members from all further scrutiny, concludes a report just issued by the UI Seminar on Tenure.
The 15-person committee, convened at the start of the 1995-96 academic year by Sylvia Manning, vice president for academic affairs, surveyed the history of tenure, long-standing and recent criticisms of tenure, and tenure practices at the Chicago and Urbana-Champaign campuses.
The result of the group's deliberations is a 63-page report that stresses the obligations as well as the protections conferred by the tenure system.
"An important task of the faculty and academic administrators is to ensure that standards of academic excellence as well as professional conduct are vigilantly and diligently met throughout the career of a faculty member at this university," said the panel. To that end, the panel's recommendations include the development of sanctions short of dismissal, and a provision for focused appraisals of tenured faculty whose performance has fallen below par and has not been remedied by other means.
Lawrence Poston, professor of English and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at UIC, who chaired the committee, said that the insistence on corresponding professional obligations has been inherent in the theory of academic tenure for more than 50 years.
"It is not the intention of the report to weaken in any way a system that, by and large, has served higher education well," he said. "We just weren't convinced that the UI is doing everything it might do to monitor and correct poor performance -- though we also think that instances of poor performance are relatively rare."
The report, he said, still preserves the necessary standard for dismissal of tenured faculty. That standard declares that the burden of proof in such proceedings lies on the university to show why a faculty member should not be retained, rather than on the faculty member to show why he or she should be kept on. The formal hearing of all such cases, said Poston, should be by a panel of faculty peers.
Printed copies of the report will be sent to all UI tenured and tenure-track faculty members in the near future. In the meantime the report can be found online at http://p363b.pb.uiuc.edu/vpaa/tenure_seminar/.