February 20, 2012


B. Questions to the President.
From Alan W. Friedman (professor, English):
"Would you please update us on recent regental actions that affect this campus, including PTR." 

Before addressing the question and commenting extensively on post tenure review, President Power said it might be helpful if he gave a brief update on what occurred at the recent regents’ meeting. First, he indicated that new construction and renovations require the regents’ approval, and the process can be quite complex, depending on the cost of the projects under consideration. At the meeting, the board approved on-going renovation projects for the art building,  art auditorium, and west tower of Jester Center as well as the purchase of the Players’ property located at 300 West Martin Luther King. When the AT&T Conference Center plans were under development, President Powers said there were reports in the press that the University was going to acquire the Player’s property through eminent domain. However, the University made alternate plans for constructing the conference center and did not continue to pursue the purchase of Players when it was clear the owners did not want to sell the property. According to the president, the property owners recently changed their minds and put the property back on the market in a totally willing and voluntary manner even though the tone of some news articles indicated the seller was unwilling.  President Powers said he thought if UT Austin did not want to purchase the property another purchaser would likely buy the property.

Second, the president indicated that routine contracts, ranging from faculty and emeritus appointments to ordinary contracts for housing and food service repairs, were typically placed on the docket and approved together as a group. At the recent meeting, changes in the structure and incentives of coaches’ remuneration were approved, but the dollar amounts remained the same. On the system-wide level, the board approved the creation of a Chancellor’s Technology Commercial Advisory Council, which includes UT Austin representatives, and a new program to develop novel approaches for training faculty and doctoral students in entrepreneurship and commercialization. Since UT Austin has already initiated programs that are similar to these newly approved ones at the system level, President Powers said it would be important to monitor how the system programs synergize and support the existing programs on our campus. A new contract with Deloitte & Touché was approved for system-wide auditing that, according to the president, would be relatively costly to our campus because UT Austin personnel will be providing a considerable amount of the auditing services. The Board of Regents also delegated responsibility for arrangements regarding the retirement system to the chancellor rather than having the decisions returned to the board for consideration and action. Expansion of the system-wide policy on criminal background checks for job applicants to a wider group of individuals, including contractors, was also approved at the meeting. President Powers said background checks for applicants for positions involving care of children, handling of cash, and areas involving sensitive information were perfectly reasonable; however, he said there was concern on campus regarding the cost of implementing this measure for applicants for shorter term positions, such as research and teaching assistants, as well as those coming from foreign countries. He indicated the exact implementation of these checks is still under negotiation and will require a good deal of administrative attention to balance the relevancy of the checks and information gathered in view of the added expense and delay in hiring that could result. He said he expected discussions with the FCEC would continue on this topic. In addition, the regents approved awards in the arts and humanities for outstanding students and amended the rules regarding how endowed academic positions are held and used.

The issue addressed in Chair Friedman’s question to the president dealt with amendments approved to Regents’ Rules and Regulations pertaining to the evaluation of tenured faculty. The president indicated the system-wide, six-year review process, in which faculty performance is judged as satisfactory or unsatisfactory, was begun in 1997. He said this post-tenure review process had resulted in a number of negotiated resignations by faculty members and had been relatively non-disruptive across campus. However, he added there had not been a large number of unsatisfactory evaluations rendered. This post-tenure review process had been added as a separate review to the regular annual review process used to award salary increases and other remuneration, including named professorships and chairs as well as research space allocations. He said the annual review system provided more than the dichotomous judgments of satisfactory or unsatisfactory because relative comparisons of performance were required to determine differentials in salary increases and other remuneration. For example, he said a more granulated evaluation was needed to determine who received a named chair as this type of reward required much more than just a satisfactory rating. Although there had been variation in how annual reviews were administered across campus, the president said he was certain that comparative evaluations were occurring within departments and other organizational units.

At the recent Board of Regents meeting, the president reported that the rules on faculty evaluations were amended with the annual reviews and post-tenure reviews being merged together to make the on-going process more granulated. There are now four rating categories that will be used annually for evaluations of faculty. Although the two processes have traditionally been done for very different purposes, President Powers said the merger of the two processes would likely create difficulties for departments, especially at the administrative level. For example, he thought faculty members could be considered as satisfactory in terms of their being continuing members of a department’s faculty while not being sufficiently satisfactory to receive raises that year.  He thought the merger of the two systems would raise issues regarding what it means to say that a faculty member is unsatisfactory. He added that the specifics of the new merged system still needs considerable work and its implementation on campus will be a critical matter. He indicated the UT Austin administration is “very sensitive to the concerns” raised by the FCEC and a number of individual faculty members about the new evaluation system.

President Powers said our campus is faced with challenges to use our increasingly limited resources to best perform our core mission of providing high quality teaching and research. Although “the word productivity has a storied and checkered history,” the president emphasized that UT Austin’s primary concern is to use our resources in a way that best meets our mission. We need to continue to make it easier for students to navigate their pathways through the University and to improve our graduation rates while, at the same time, find ways to reduce or at least keep costs as low as possible. He said he wanted to emphasize what he had said in his State of the University address that, “Our faculty productivity is not the problem.”  He went on to say that the post-tenure debate reflects different value judgments regarding the outputs of what a major University produces, and he had talked at great length during his tenure as president about the importance of the value of research and of teaching that is tied with research. Another aspect of the debate, which the president said he thought was often not well understood, is the value of tenure itself. He said some individuals do not understand why faculty members are given 40-year contracts because this practice is unusual and not done in other enterprises. One reason for granting tenure, according to the president, is the market for talented faculty members is extremely competitive, and it would not be good for UT Austin to try to compete without the availability of tenure since the overall market offers this  He said there are very good reasons that higher education offers tenure dating back to the 1950s when a faculty member could be fired if he or she held an unpopular political position.  Even though he thought this possibility was less of an issue today, he said tenure offers protection for first amendment rights for faculty members. It also protects faculty members who seek to pursue research in a relatively undirected way even though much of the University’s research is actually directed by projects at research centers or available funding. He said tenure allows a faculty member to pursue research and have it peer reviewed without interference from administrators, politicians, or board members, who say the area or type of research is not worthwhile to pursue. Tenure, according to the president, allows faculty members to pursue their work, which may ultimately prove beneficial to overall knowledge or even become the basis for additional scientific and humanistic work twenty-five years from now.

Having said there were very good reasons for why tenure developed and persists in higher education, the president acknowledged a trade-off exists in that tenure can limit leverage and make universities less nimble to respond as changes occur. However, he pointed out universities have responded over the past twenty-five years to this need for flexibility by hiring a greater proportion of non-tenure-track faculty members. He said tenured faculty members now comprise only about half of the instructional staff at universities, which is a major change from the past. As a consequence, universities have been trying to find the right balance between stability and nimbleness, which has resulted in professionalization of the non-tenured group by providing promotions and rolling three-year contracts. This adjustment process, according to President Powers, shows “higher education in the U.S. has not had its head in the sand” and has “done a very good job of slowly adjusting the needle back and forth to try to get the stability that is needed for the kind of research we want” as well as the flexibility for instructional changes to occur. He closed his comments to the Council by saying, “This seems more responding to an idea that our faculty aren’t working hard enough, and I just disagree at my core with that notion.”

Professor Brian Evans (electrical and computer engineering and chair of the Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility (CCAFR)) asked what would happen to post-tenure review when the two processes—annual reviews and post-tenure review—were operationally merged together? He said he understood that the process was to take effect immediately, but he did not know how that would really play out in practice. President Powers responded that he understood the new four-tiered evaluation process would go into effect for our next review cycle. However, he thought the process was not granulated enough for merit increases but too granulated for post-tenure review. He said it would not be a good idea for everyone, who is judged as satisfactory, to get the same raise, but the University would have to utilize a form with the four ratings. The president said it was too early to say how this will work, and he wanted to hear from deans, department chairs, and faculty members. Professor Evans said the four categories—unsatisfactory, does not meet expectations, meets expectations, and exceeds expectation—seems to leave some room for interpretation. President Powers first responded that he thought ”does not meet expectations” seemed unsatisfactory to him. However, he added a new hire might be expected to be a superstar but at some level might not meet expectations; in that case, he said hypothetically that he doubted the individual would be placed in the third category. Professor Evans indicated he thought salary raises were largely based on merit, but there were other dimensions that diverged due to institutional goals, such as gender equity. As a result, he thought the two processes shared common ground but could actually be quite different in the end.  President Powers agreed, saying salary decisions were complex and included factors UT Austin had been addressing, such as gender equity and competitiveness. He commented, “This tool does not seem to align with those salary policy codes,” and he expected department chairs and budget councils would need to use some other mechanisms to make “granulated and nuanced salary decisions.” Professor Evans noted that the CCAFR had historically been involved in disputes regarding procedural and academic freedom violations occurring during promotion and post-tenure reviews. He asked how the committee’s investigations and evaluations would be impacted by post-tenure review being merged with faculty annual reviews. After responding that this issue would require additional thought to work out, President Powers asked Professor Evans if CCAFR was not also involved in academic freedom issues beyond tenure, promotion, and post-tenure reviews? Professor Evans replied, “That’s correct.” The president said he thought CCAFR would be continue to be involved in any decision where a faculty member claimed his or her academic freedom had been violated. Professor Evans agreed, saying that anyone can refer a case to CCAFR, including faculty members, chairs, deans, provost, president, or the Board of Regents.

After noting President Powers had spoken “eloquently” about the increasing role and professionalism of the non-tenure-track faculty with regard to rolling contracts and promotions, Dr. Leslie Vaaler (mathematics) asked if the president perceived these practices were being adequately monitored by the University as to what is actually occurring on a department-by-department basis. She also asked who at the University should be responsible for monitoring the practices regarding non-tenure-track faculty. The president said he thought the situation was much improved resulting from the task force recommendation for a more organized professional structure for non-tenure-track faculty. He said he did not have examples, but he felt the new practices were working well in some departments and not so well in others. After saying that monitoring was needed to determine where problems exist, he indicated the new information system currently under development would  provide data as to what is occurring. The systems, according to the president, will provide information about areas where associate professors are not progressing to full professor and where lecturers have been working for many years and not being recommended for promotions or multiple year contracts. He added that the intent was not to tell units their decisions were right or wrong, but to identify where departments might not be attending to issues. He said he philosophically agreed with Dr. Vaaler  that there was a role for management oversight from the tower to assure  promotions and multiple-year contracts were being addressed in the departments and colleges/schools. Dr. Vaaler asked whom faculty members should contact if they wanted to contribute toward seeing that these objectives were addressed. The president first replied that these issues needed to be raised at the departmental level; if a department were not responsive, than he suggested the issues be brought to the attention of the  FCEC or the Educational Policy Committee.

Professor James Yates (educational administration; special education) asked President Powers if he thought the post-tenure review process might evolve in the same sequence of steps that promotions have. He said he was asking where the decisions would get made—in budget councils, by the deans, or by the president’s office. He added that he thought this were an important issue that could be operationalized in different ways in different places. The president said more thought was needed regarding this issue, and the outcome could depend on how the unsatisfactory ratings developed under the new system. In the past, he explained that unsatisfactory ratings had occurred infrequently and had largely been handled quite amicably at the local level. He perceived there was nothing in the new rules that would necessitate a change occurring in the future. However, should implementation of the new rules end up with a third of the faculty being categorized as unsatisfactory, then he said he would be “stunned” because that many faculty members would certainly not deserve such a rating. In that case, he said there would need to be a “more rigorous process” created. If the pattern continues with about the same number of unsatisfactory ratings as in the past and amicable solutions being worked out at the local level with just a few being moved up administrative channels, then the process will likely remain similar to what has been done in the past. He said it was necessary to see how the new rules get implemented before he could answer the question. He added he felt it was unlikely that a chair could declare, without any other process in place, that an unsatisfactory rating resulted in termination.  He felt termination under any circumstance, whether financial exigency, post-tenure review, or cause, would end up in the president’s office at some point after going through the correct processes.

Professor Evans said CCAFR had dealt with only one unsatisfactory post-tenure review that had progressed from the departmental to the college level. He reported the college overturned the decision, making the outcome a satisfactory one. He said he had heard that only three percent of the post-tenure reviews over the past twelve years had been unsatisfactory. President Powers pointed out this result was consistent with his view that the UT Austin faculty was “extremely talented and productive and hard-working.”

Professor Martha Hilley (music) said she wanted to return to the non-tenure–track faculty issue that had been raised. After the task force disbanded, she recalled being a member of a group of faculty that was asked to stay in close contact with the provost to monitor implementation of the recommendations. She said she did not know what had happened to that group and was concerned it had “just kind of dwindled away.” She suggested that Dr. Vaaler contact the Faculty Welfare Committee and added that that group would very much like to deal with the issue of non-tenure-track faculty well-being. After President Powers agreed, Professor Hilley asked it the provost could see if the group originally assigned to monitor implementation of the task force’s recommendations was still functioning. Provost Steven Leslie said he did not know and asked Vice Provost Judith Langlois if she had information to address the question. Vice Provost Langlois said she chaired the task force that produced recommended principles on which the University should operate regarding non-tenure-track faculty, and an implementation committee was formed, which was chaired by Dr. Hillary Hart (civil, architecture, and environmental engineering). Dr. Hart said there had been an implementation committee in place for a couple of years to see that the recommendations were finalized and transmitted to the unit levels. She said the committee, which included the deans from the Colleges of Natural Science and Liberal Arts, no longer exists.

President Powers indicated a regular mechanism for bringing issues regarding non-tenure-track promotions and rolling contracts to the administration was a good idea, and he was open to reinstating the implementation review committee or establishing another way to monitor progress on the issue. In his six years of experience dealing with promotions and tenure, he perceived there had been numerous promotions to senior and distinguished senior lecturers and believed the system was working pretty well. However, he pointed out the administration has seen only the cases being recommended  for promotion rather than those that were not. President Powers said he recalled having asked the Faculty Council to look at the standards for promotion to senior lecturer and distinguished senior lecturer in the past. He expressed concern that the standards were written in such a way that an individual whom a department would hate to lose but whose teaching evaluations were in the middle range generally could not be promoted, and the requirements for promotion to distinguished senior lecturer established “a very daunting standard.” He recommended that “little tweaks in the standards” would provide greater flexibility and would be worthwhile to consider.

The president’s comments ended with a round of applause from Council members. Chair Friedman thanked the president for his report and urged him to continue including the updates about regental meetings in the future when appropriate.
Return to main minutes