MINUTES OF THE REGULAR FACULTY COUNCIL MEETING OF
March 21, 2011

 

 
VI.
UNFINISHED BUSINESS—None.

A.

Proposed Revisions to UT Austin’s HOP 3.16 Threatened Faculty Retrenchment (D 8624-8628).

Past Chair Staiger presented a brief history of the proposed revision to UT Austin’s HOP 3.16 Threatened Faculty Retrenchment policy. She said a financial exigency policy was needed as a consequence of the revision of the overall regents’ policy about what would happen if a declaration of financial exigency were necessary. She added that the need for this became apparent largely due to the situation at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston after damage and cutbacks in personnel occurred following Hurricane Rita. Past Chair Staiger reported there were objections by Provost Leslie and President Powers to the proposal put forward last May that required the legislation be reworked. Since it is major legislation, she reminded the Council that the General Faculty must approve the revised proposal. In order to enhance the probability the revised policy will be approved this time, Past Chair Staiger said she and Chair Neikirk have worked extensively with Provost Leslie and President Powers on the legislation, and they enlisted the able assistance of Professor David Rabban (law) to share his expertise regarding the American Association of University Professors’ guidelines on these issues. Although there are two very minor issues that have not been resolved and will be pointed out during the presentation of the revised proposal, she said she and Chair Neikirk were hoping the revised policy could be approved even though there are still two very minor issues at stake.

Past Chair Staiger referred to her detailed PowerPoint slides during the presentation, which are attached in Appendix B. The current proposal is included on the first two slides, and new revised proposal begins on the third slide of the series. Past Chair Staiger described the proposed policy as following closely Regents’ Rule 31003 with particularities specified for the way UT Austin normally has worked. She explained that the policy primarily states that UT Austin will try to involve the faculty in any of the decisions and procedures.

Past Chair Staiger pointed out that there are two parts to the document. The first part pertains to when a program or a tenured or tenure-track position is to be eliminated for academic or budgetary reasons and describes what would happen. Because the Regents’ Rules has not required the faculty governance body to nominate individuals to a committee to make these evaluations, she said an agreement was negotiated in which the president will consult with the Faculty Council and the budgetary units to determine the most appropriate of the possible courses of action to take and the means of safe-guarding faculty rights and interests, including tenure rights. If there should be a need to reduce academic programs or faculty positions, she said the president, in consultation with the Faculty Council Executive Committee, would appoint a review committee composed of faculty and administrative personnel to make recommendations to the president regarding the matter. The committee will be composed of at least half faculty members, and, unless otherwise agreed to, the committee will also include the chair of the Faculty Council. She said inclusion of the Faculty Council chair provides an independent faculty contribution to the committee, or at least one that is not a presidential appointee. She added that a person, who might be terminated in this case, has the right to appeal.

The second part pertains to a situation of absolute financial exigency, which she said is not expected to happen. In case a major financial problem should arise, Past Chair Staiger said the policy and procedures follow line-by-line the Regents’ Rules. The Regents’ Rules allow an appointment of a committee composed of faculty administrative personnel. At least half the total committee membership shall be faculty members, and at least half of the faculty members on the committee shall be appointed from recommendations submitted to the president from the Faculty Council. She explained that she and Chair Newkirk tried to secure an agreement for the same committee composition for absolute financial exigency as was required for program elimination, but the Regents’ Rules were not as clear about this type of situation. As a result, the policy and procedures in the case of absolute financial exigency follow Regents’ Rules, which do give some faculty independence in essentially one-fourth of the appointments on the advisory committee. She said she and Chair Newkirk were also recommending that a majority be faculty-appointed members and that the faculty-appointed members be tenured, have had experience in the institution, and so forth. In addition, the revised procedures asked that the committee members try to get their work accomplished in sixty days, if possible.

For Regents’ Rule 3.3, which involves review consideration and tenure preference, Past Chair Staiger said she and Chair Neikirk have asked for the information to be presented in a written report. In the slide describing this, she said one of the two sticking points that had not yet been resolved was underlined, and words were the following: “If other officers of the university, such as deans or program chairs are involved in identifying individuals whose appointments are to be terminated, the process for obtaining those recommendations should be described in the report.” She said this wording was included because of what happened at UTMB, where a large number of chairs were making the recommendations, rather than faculty review committees, which turned out to be problematic. Although Past Chair Staiger said such a situation was not expected here at UT Austin, she said the provost’s office was arguing for not including that sentence in the final policy. She said the statement was presented in the contingent form, but she thought the information should be described in a written report. She went on to say that information would be possible to obtain through open records requests, but she and Chair Neikirk preferred that the information be transparent. Although this wording was not required, she said they decided to leave the wording in the proposed policy statement with underlining in hopes this might still be negotiated. Past Chair Staiger called the wording a “should do” for transparency purposes even though it was not a necessary one. She said she and Chair Neikirk hoped these words would “not be a sticking point for the entire policy.” She explained that the committee would have personnel records and other documents available to them, and following the review, the information could be obtained.

In addition, Past Chair Staiger said there was a procedure for appeal if one were to be terminated; however, she pointed out that underlined wording identified the second sticking point where agreement had not been reached. She said procedures about grieving your termination are included in the Regents’ Rules 31003, 3.7 and 3.8, and UT Systems attorneys had interpreted the rules to mean the use of an institution’s local governance procedures would be appropriate as long as the major guidelines in the Regents’ Rules were followed. She explained that she and Chair Neikirk wanted the statement to clarify that UT Austin would follow the local UT Austin faculty governance procedures, subject to the requirements of Regents’ Rules. To make this quite clear and evident, she and Chair Newkirk had moved this information from the third paragraph and placed it prominently in the first paragraph. She said there had been no dispute about the statement when it was in the third paragraph, so she and Chair Neikirk were hoping that changing the placement would not be perceived as a problem.

In the following paragraph, she pointed out that the appeal for reconsideration would need to be presented in writing and addressed to the president who would then send a copy of the appeal to the chairs of the Grievance Committee and the Committee of Council on Academic Freedom and Responsibility. She explained that this is the normal process if a faculty member who is tenured or occupying a tenure-track position is being terminated before the end of a period of appointment expires. The burden, however, is on the appellant to show that financial exigency was not the reason for the termination or that there was some other reason why the individual should not have been terminated. Past Chair Staiger said she and Chair Neikirk had successfully negotiated that anyone being terminated should be given a reasonable amount of time to close down his or her research and related facilities in a non-destructive way. At some places where terminations have occurred, according to the past chair, research programs have been abruptly ended or seriously damaged because individuals have been terminated and asked to leave the facilities within 24 hours. She said the provisions involving no concurrent replacements and first consideration for re-employment were considered important to include.

Past Chair Staiger said the proposed revisions to UT Austin’s HOP 3.16 Threatened Faculty Retrenchment legislation had involved a good deal of hard work and negotiation, and she was hopeful that the legislation would be approved by the Faculty Council, General Faculty, and the various levels of administrators. Chair Neikirk said the proposed legislation was coming from the Faculty Council Executive Committee and therefore required no second. He opened the floor to debate. Since there were no questions or comments, Chair Neikirk called for the vote, and D 8684-8628 passed unanimously by voice vote.

 

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