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Committee of Counsel on
Academic Freedom and

Procedural Reviews of Tenure Track Promotion-Related Decisions

The Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility (CCAFR) serves as an appellate body for faculty who claim that the University failed to adhere to appropriate policies and procedures in evaluating them for tenure and promotion. Per Section #11 of the University’s General Guidelines for the Preparation of Supporting Materials and the Management of Tenured And Tenure-Track Candidate Promotion Files (fall 2005):
Should either a candidate or the president request a review of the case by the Committee of Council on Academic Freedom and Responsibility (CCAFR), CCAFR shall advise the president as to whether, in its judgment, the procedures followed in the candidate's case accorded with both the University's and commonly accepted professional standards for promotion and tenure.
Consistent with this directive, five faculty members brought to our committee’s attention possible violations of University policies and procedures as to how their promotion and tenure reviews were conducted. Two of these faculty members filed formal complaints with our committee, both of which were investigated by subcommittees and reported upon to the president. In both of these cases the subcommittee determined that contrary to University guidelines negative material was inserted into the candidates’ dossiers after they had received favorable votes from their departments. The candidates were not informed that these materials had been inserted and thus were denied an opportunity to examine and refute the unfavorable comments. They then received unfavorable votes by subsequent promotion and tenure committees.

To help ensure that candidates are made aware of all materials that are included in their dossiers and that they are afforded an opportunity both to review and to respond to them, we recommend the following revisions to the General Guidelines for the Preparation of Supporting Materials and the Management of Tenured And Tenure-Track Candidate Promotion Files:

1. At the end of the first paragraph under Section 8 of the Guidelines, add the following:
However, any adverse information, whether written or oral, and then recorded or relied upon in any document which is included in the dossier is critical to the legitimate interests of a candidate. Basic fairness and principles of due process require that the candidate have access to such information for purposes of explanation and/or rebuttal. See Section 2 of the Addendum.

2. Create sub paragraphs under numbered Section 2 of the Addendum by
a. adding "a)" before the paragraph "Review of materials."
b. adding a new sub paragraph "b)" as follows:
Although ex-parte communications regarding the merits of a candidate may be impossible to eliminate totally, any member of a review committee, chair or dean who is offered such advice should refuse to discuss the matter and advise the would-be source that such information should be presented in writing with the understanding that it will be called to the attention of the candidate who will have the opportunity to explain and/or rebut.
c. adding a new sub paragraph "c)" as follows:
If any additional input is solicited or accepted for inclusion in the dossier, it should be in writing and handled in accord with the letter and spirit of Section 8 of these guidelines. The candidate should be notified of the addition of this material and permitted an opportunity to explain and/or rebut.
d. adding a new sub paragraph "d)" as follows:
In any case in which these directives have been violated and adverse information has been included in a dossier without notification to the candidate after a departmental committee has discussed and voted, the dean shall determine whether this information, without the candidate's response, might have had a substantial effect on the department's discussion and vote. If it has had a substantial effect on the department’s discussion and vote, the dean shall direct that the candidate be informed of the material. If the candidate wishes to present a rebuttal, the committee shall reconsider its decision on the basis of the newly-completed dossier. Similarly, should the addition be made after the College Committee has discussed and voted, the provost shall determine whether this information, without the candidate's response, might have had a substantial effect on the College Committee's discussion and vote. If it has had a substantial effect, the dean shall direct that the candidate be informed of the material. If the candidate wishes to present a rebuttal, the Committee shall reconsider its decision on the basis of the newly-completed dossier.

3. Add a new paragraph “8” to the Addendum as follows:
Rule of construction. In any instance in which participants at any stage of this review process find ambiguity as to the meaning of the language of the Guidelines and Addendum, the language shall be construed so as to assure transparency and procedural protection for the candidate.

The investigations of our committee made it clear that faculty who are being considered for promotion and tenure as well as both faculty and administrators who participate in the promotion and tenure review process may be unaware of the existence of the General Guidelines for the Preparation of Supporting Materials and the Management of Tenured And Tenure-Track Candidate Promotion Files, to say nothing of their specific provisions. We urge, therefore, that the administration take all appropriate measures to inform deans and chairs of the guidelines, and that they in turn, make the faculty members of their respective schools and departments aware of them. Further, the administration should make known its expectation that all participants in the tenure and promotion process will adhere to these guidelines.

It has also become apparent to our committee that fundamental, common sense personnel practices are not always followed. In particular, we have become aware of situations in which the criteria for promotion and tenure are poorly defined, not adequately communicated to faculty, and are inconsistently applied at the various levels of review. We recognize that in an academic environment it is neither possible nor desirable to have explicit, unambiguous criteria. Further, it is understandable that faculty members and administrators at different levels of the review process would differ both as to a candidate’s merits and the standards to which he or she should be held. Nevertheless, we believe that promotion and tenure decisions should result in few surprises. By the time they are being evaluated for promotion and tenure, most faculty should be aware whether they are strong, weak, or marginal candidates. To this end we recommend:

Department chairs and executive committees develop promotion and tenure criteria that are as specific as feasible. These criteria should be approved by appropriate division heads and deans. They should be communicated to faculty members eligible for promotion and tenure and to all participants in the promotion and tenure process.

Chairs should supplement mandatory three-year reviews with fourth- and fifth-year reviews in which they provide faculty members with candid assessments of whether they are on-track to be promoted and receive tenure. They should also provide guidance on how the faculty members should direct their productive efforts in the time remaining until they are scheduled for their promotion and tenure review. However, in no case should a favorable assessment be considered a commitment of any type with respect to the final promotion and tenure decision.

Post-tenure Reviews

Per the Handbook of Operating Procedures, the purpose of the post-tenure review is as follows:

The purpose of the sixth-year period performance evaluation is to assess whether the tenured faculty member is making a contribution consistent with that expected of a tenured faculty member. These contributions can vary widely in terms of individual professional responsibilities. They can be 100% administrative. They can include teaching in more than one program, and they can include substantial duties in advising students. In each and every case, the focus of the review needs to be commensurate with the specific professional responsibilities the faculty member has been assigned. For faculty members performing substantial duties outside their department, the evaluation committee shall consider information from University personnel who are familiar with the faculty member's performance outside the department.
Per Section 3.14 of the Handbook of Operating Procedures (Annual Review and Periodic Evaluation of Tenured Faculty):
The Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility is charged with monitoring this review process and with reporting its findings annually to the Faculty Council and the UT Austin administration. If its findings warrant, the committee shall recommend revisions of the procedures for annual reviews and periodic performance evaluation of tenured faculty at UT Austin, the UT System Guidelines for Periodic Performance Evaluation of Tenured Faculty, or both.
In fulfillment of this charge, our committee sent an email to the entire UT faculty soliciting comments on their experiences with the post-tenure review process. The letter said in part:
Our committee is especially interested in any implementation problems you may have encountered or any unusual issues that you had to resolve. We welcome any positive or negative experiences that you may wish to share and any suggestions as to how the process can be improved.
In response to this solicitation we received thirty written comments. Most of the respondents viewed the post-tenure review process as working reasonably well and being a relatively innocuous inconvenience. One email, however, was particularly negative toward the process, charging that the process was abusive and commenting that “[t]he small percentages of ‘unsatisfactory’ and subsequent outcomes should not hide the fact that the PTR should not be misused, not even once, in this arbitrary manner.”

In addition, four faculty members either visited in person with the committee chair or spoke with him by phone. In each case the faculty member complained that the process was abusive, unfair, arbitrary, vindictive and carried out with an intent to harass. Our committee did not investigate the validity of their charges or attempt to obtain reaction from the parties involved in their reviews.

In each of the cases the faculty member was judged unsatisfactory in one or more aspects of his or her performance and considered the judgment to be unfair. Moreover, the faculty members believed that their unsatisfactory ratings stemmed from clashes with their chairs or deans over issues unrelated to their performance. In one case, for example, the faculty member was a very productive researcher, an excellent teacher and had an extensive record of service to the department. In recent years, however, he [or she] adopted a research agenda that could not be expected to generate outside research grants – contrary to the goals of administrators within his college. The unsatisfactory review was one element in a pattern of punitive measure taken against him – reduction of professorship funds, unfavorable teaching assignments, and removal as director of a center that he had established. When he requested, as is his right, a second committee to review his performance, the dean appointed the same members to the second committee as the first (as is permitted by the HOP when the college does not have departments).

In another case, a faculty member was judged satisfactory in research and teaching but unsatisfactory in service. Indeed he [or she] is an active and accomplished researcher and consistently earns teaching evaluations of 4.5 and above. Moreover, he offered evidence that he has, in fact, provided what is commonly accepted on this campus as an acceptable level of service to his department as well as to national academic associations. This faculty member has an extensive history of conflicts with his chairman (as well as other members of his department). In this case, like the other, there is reason to suspect that the faculty member was held to standards or judged by criteria more harsh than those more commonly applied in post-tenure reviews.

The faculty members who complained that the post-tenure reviews were conducted in an abusive manner with intent to harass did not fault the post-tenure review procedures per se. They did not recommend changes to the HOP or to the administrative guidelines that were set forth in a provost’s memo of April 6, 2000. Rather they accused the parties who carried out the review of being malevolent, biased against them and vindictive. Accordingly, our committee sees no need, at this time to amend either the HOP or the UT administrative guidelines. Nevertheless, we believe that the administration should be aware that there have been several alleged instances in which the post-tenure reviews have not been conducted in the spirit that they were intended. We urge, therefore, that the administration review carefully, and take seriously, the complaints brought to its attention by individual faculty members who receive unsatisfactory reviews. In addition, it must emphasize to deans and chairs the importance of ensuring that post-tenure reviews are based on performance criteria that are objective and applied uniformly and that all negative findings are carefully and thoroughly documented. To this end, it would be useful if the administration conducted periodic workshops for both administrators and faculty to inform them of applicable post-tenure review policies and procedures and provide guidance on how post-tenure reviews should be conducted. We also recommend that, as part of its monitoring role, CCAFR track by department serious complaints about the manner in which post-tenure review was conducted and make such information available to the administration.

Michael H. Granof, chair (accounting)
Robert W. Jensen (journalism)
David Justin (theatre and dance)
Dominic Lasorsa (journalism)
Tess Jo Moon (mechanical engineering)
Edward W. (Ted) Odell (mathematics)
Megan Seaholm (history)
Michael M. Sharlot (law)
Jerome Williams (advertising)

  Updated 2006 August 29
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