Meeting focuses largely on ongoing tenure issue

By Charles Ratliff
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 12, 1996

It is resilient and not an easy dragon to slay.

Some have even called it the abortion issue of academia.

It is tenure and it has become a hot topic of discussion in the past few months among faculty, students and administrators in Arizona's university system and the Arizona Board of Regents slated it as the first item on the agenda for discussion at yesterday's meeting in UA's Student Union Rincon Room.

Special guest speaker Dr. Richard Chait attended yesterday's meeting and led the three-hour study session on tenure.

Chait is executive director of the Center for Higher Education Governance and Leadership at the University of Maryland and is considered an expert in university trusteeships and academic administration.

The regents are trying to identify problem areas within the tenure system at Arizona's universities so they can implement changes or do away with the system altogether.

Regents decided to continue looking for ways to improve the system.

During his presentation, Chait pointed out that the number of non-tenure track full-time faculty has soared. He said 50 percent of all classes offered at American colleges and universities are taught by non-tenure faculty.

That does not mean a university should do away with tenure, he said. Some of the most prestigious universities in the country have tenure systems that work.

"There is no research university that does not have a tenure system," Chait said. "Colleges who do not have a tenure system are not ranked among the Who's Who of American Colleges. Rather, they are among the Who's Not."

The problem with tenure, Chait said, is how to get rid of non-productive tenured faculty members. He said the only way seems to be closing down departments or having the university declare a budget crisis.

Regent Rudy Campbell said that is the part he would like the regents to fix.

He said he does not believe that Arizona's universities are full of "lazy" professors, but that "there only has to be one" to cast a negative light on the rest.

"We would be able to get rid of those who are non-productive," he said. "I think what we are talking about here is the abuses."

Campbell said he felt that the responsibility falls on the individual departments to help identify those who are "non-productive."

Regent John Munger said he wasn't interested in getting rid of the small minority who abuses the system. He said it would be a matter of rejuvenating the system with better people.

"We need a system where the dean can say, 'Hey, there's somebody better out there.' We don't have that."

Chait identified several areas the regents could look at to modify the tenure system within the universities.

Some ideas included: extending probationary periods beyond the traditional six years, changing the reward structure, establishing a non-tenure track for teaching professors, creating a two-track system and a market for sale of tenure from faculty back to their university, modifying post-tenure reviews and tenure as a guarantee of salary, not a guarantee of a job for life.

Provost Paul Sypherd said he was pleased with the discussion and that the UA has been at the forefront of this issue.

He cited the Faculty Senate's recommendations for changes to the UA's tenure system, which include a reward system for professors and three-year post-tenure reviews, and stressed the instruction of undergraduate and graduate students.

"The tenuring of a faculty member is a big deal," Sypherd said. "For them, it's a tough six years."

He said the UA will bring back an in-depth analysis of tenure at the university to the board in two months.

The regents will again discuss the issue of tenure at next month's meeting at ASU West. The regents will conclude their January meeting in the Student Union's Rincon Room with a vote on the use of multi-year contracts for faculty members of the new Arizona International University.