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Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility

The function of the Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility (CCAFR) is to study and advise on problems or issues related to academic freedom and responsibility. This academic year the CCAFR engaged in a number of activities related to this charge with the salient activities, results, and recommendations coming from three principal oversight areas: promotions; academic freedom; and post–tenure review—in addition to an area of responsibility historically confided in part to the CCAFR, i.e., issues related to Course Instructor Surveys.

Promotions
In one of its primary roles, the CCAFR investigates faculty claims that the University failed to adhere to appropriate policies and procedures in evaluating them for tenure and promotion and reports its findings to the president and the candidate (Ref.: “General Guidelines for the Preparation of Supporting Materials and the Management of Tenured And Tenure-Track Candidate Promotion Files” Addendum, §6, fall 2006). In keeping with this role, the CCAFR also makes recommendations, as appropriate, to the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost for revisions of the above said “General Guidelines” for increased procedural clarity and fairness for all participants in the process.

1. Procedural Reviews of Tenured And Tenure-TrackPromotion-Related Decisions
Of the four inquiries received this year by the CCAFR regarding potential procedural errors, one resulted in a formal report to the president. Amongst the concerns expressed, the report particularly stressed:
From a systemic perspective, we believe it would be useful for the president in his annual memorandum to deans and department chairs concerning the promotion process to emphasize that any candidate who asks must be told what the budget council, the department chair, the college advisory committee, and the dean have recommended with respect to promotion. The memorandum should also emphasize that candidates are entitled to informal access to their promotion files at both the departmental and college levels.
2. Revisions of the “General Guidelines”
In October 2006, the CCAFR submitted to the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost a resolution for certain revisions of the “General Guidelines” (D 5127-5129) drafted by the 2005–2006 CCAFR in response to two separate investigations that uncovered similar procedural flaws. In each case the investigative CCAFR subcommittee determined that, contrary to University guidelines, negative material had been inserted into the respective candidate’s dossier after they had received favorable votes from their department. Given that the candidates were not informed that these materials had been inserted, they were effectively denied an opportunity to examine and refute the unfavorable comments. (The candidates subsequently received unfavorable votes by the subsequent promotion and tenure committees.)

Following discussions with the CCAFR and the Faculty Council chair, the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost drafted the following revisions to the “General Guidelines” (effective fall 2007) that capture the spirit of the CCAFR’s recommendations:

a. Add to end of Section 8 and before the last sentence in Section 2 of Addendum:
All factual information relied upon in the tenure decision process shall be included in written form in the promotion dossier. When such information is added to the promotion dossier after the department chair has asked the candidate to check the materials in the promotion dossier (see Section 2 of Addendum), the candidate shall be informed of its inclusion and permitted an opportunity to place a statement in the file addressing this addition. All administrative parties (budget council/executive committee, department chair, ORU director or dean) having already reviewed the dossier will also be notified of the inclusion of the additional materials. No notification, however, will be made for the addition of required statements to the promotion dossier during the regular review process by a budget council/executive committee, department chair, ORU director or dean.
b. Add a new paragraph “8” to the Addendum as follows:
8. Assistance.
  • For assistance with questions concerning the General Guidelines or the promotion and tenure process generally, candidates should contact the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost at 232-3320.
  • Faculty members wishing to speak with a neutral third party about individual concerns should consult with the Faculty Ombudsperson at 471-5866.
  • Questions about procedural concerns may be addressed to the chair of the Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility through the Office of the General Faculty at 471-5934.
  • The General Guidelines can be downloaded from the Web site of the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost at http://www.utexas.edu/provost/policies/evaluation/tenure/index.html.


“General Guidelines” revisions recommended by the 2006-2007 CCAFR are:

a. Revise the Addendum, Section 3 “Confidentiality of external and internal reviews”:
The department chair, dean, or their designee shall inform the candidate that the promotion and tenure review process is helped by confidentiality. [It is not customary for candidates to examine peer review letters or to be informed of the recommendations of the department committee, the chair, the college or school committee, or the dean. Nevertheless, if] If the candidate requests to see his/her peer review letters, they should be made available to the candidate (see 8 above). Additionally, if the candidate requests information about specific recommendations, the chair, dean, or their designee shall immediately inform the candidate…


Faculty Concern
In February 2007, a faculty member requested that the CCAFR investigate the handling of a student complaint regarding a required text that the student found to be offensive and claimed to the Equal Opportunities Office to be a form of discrimination. A subcommittee has been formed to consider the faculty member's request, and the investigation is in progress.

Post–Tenure Review
The CCAFR monitors the Post–Tenure Review (PTR) process and receives reports of faculty problems and/or concerns, recommending changes in PTR as needed. As is usual, the CCAFR solicited and listened to feedback regarding PTR: most notably in May 2006 from deans and department chairs at the PTR Workshop, sponsored by the executive vice provost, and in February 2007 from the former UT chancellor that instituted PTR and that had recently undergone PTR as a faculty member. The former chancellor emphasized that PTR should be conducted in a collegial manner and aimed at identifying ways the faculty member can contribute most effectively at the different stages of their careers at UT.

At a March 30 meeting, the CCAFR impressed upon the executive vice president and provost and executive vice provost the points raised by the former chancellor. The executive vice president and provost stated that PTR is a mechanism for periodic review and evaluation of faculty and that a goal of PTR is faculty development. The executive vice provost presents these concepts at his (annual) seminars for new chairs and deans and committed to invite the CCAFR to these presentations.

The CCAFR also published its annual Summary of Post–Tenure Reports (which can be found at http://www.utexas.edu/provost/policies/post_tenure/index.html). During the 2005–06 academic year, 199 faculty were reviewed: 88.4% rated satisfactory; 4% rated unsatisfactory; 5.5% retired; 1% resigned and 1% died. During the eight–year period, 1998–2006, 1438 faculty under went PTR: 93.2% rated satisfactory; 2.2% rated unsatisfactory; 2.9% retired; 1.3% resigned and 0.6% died.

Electronic Course Instructor Surveys (eCIS)
The CCAFR’s historical involvement with the Course Instructor Surveys (CIS) dates back to at least the 2004–05 academic year when then Faculty Council chair, Linda Reichl, requested that the CCAFR review all issues concerning the new legal status of the CIS. After studying the issue in fall 2004, the CCAFR subsequently recommended to the Faculty Council that an ad hoc committee be appointed to further study issues of University ownership of the CIS for faculty (D 3695-3697).

During fall 2006, the CCAFR once again became involved in CIS—this time regarding faculty participation in the electronic CIS (or eCIS). On October 23, 2006, the Division of Instructional Innovation and Assessment (DIIA) informed many faculty members that their colleges had approved the expansion of the University’s pilot eCIS for faculty use beginning with the fall 2006 course survey. Unfortunately, this call for faculty volunteers failed to note an important difference between the traditional paper and the new electronic CIS:
Handwritten student comments are excepted from disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) because handwriting is identifiable, and personally identifiable information about students is confidential pursuant to federal law (i.e., Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, FERPA); typewritten student comments are presumed to be available for release to the public under the TPIA, provided that any personally identifying information about the author or other students is first redacted.
The CCAFR identified this omission and worked with the DIIA and Office of Legal Affairs to draft and distribute to all faculty, AIs and TAs an e-mail message entitled “Texas Open Records Act & CIS Student Comments” on December 2 and 4. The CCAFR distributed a similar message entitled “eCIS know BEFORE signing up” on March 8 for the spring 2007 semester to all faculty and AIs, excluding TAs who are now recognized as being ineligible for eCIS use.

At the CCAFR’s request, on November 13, the Faculty Council chair appointed an Ad Hoc Committee of the Faculty Council to Study Electronic Course Instructor Surveys (eCIS) to study any and all issues related to eCIS, including but not limited to their availability to the public under the Texas Open Records Act, alternative methods to collect data relevant to students, faculty and the administration, and requirement of their use by deans and/or chairs. The ad hoc committee presented its findings at the January 22 Faculty Council meeting (D 5242).

Independent of the work and the still–pending recommendations of the ad hoc committee regarding eCIS, the executive vice president and provost and DIIA agreed at a March 30 meeting that:

1) Each semester DIIA will provide faculty and AIs with two-three weeks advance notice of TPIA implications—similar to those issued this academic year—so that they can make an informed choice with respect to choosing eCIS over the paper CIS; and that

2) During the trial stage of eCIS (expected to last five to seven years) that faculty participation in eCIS—rather than the traditional paper—will be voluntary. While this might be re-assessed at the end of the trial stage, the CCAFR will be consulted regarding changes in requirements of faculty and AIs to participate in eCIS.


Tess Moon, chair