MINUTES OF THE REGULAR FACULTY COUNCIL MEETING OF
April 23, 2012

VIII. NEW BUSINESS.

A. Discussion of the Guidelines and Procedures for Implementing the Rules and Regulations of the Board of Regents Rule 31102: Evaluation of Tenured Faculty.

Chair Friedman reported he had prepared guidelines and procedures, as promised during the April Council meeting, for implementing the rules and regulations of the new Board of Regents’ policy regarding evaluation of faculty. The document, which is included as Appendix A, resulted from extensive efforts of members of the FCEC and the UT Austin administration and was supported by both. He said the document reflected the following important principles:
  • Strong affirmation of the quality of the UT Austin faculty, value of tenure, and positive function of post-tenure review
  • Annual reviews are not the same as comprehensive evaluations, and the evaluation process is determined and overseen by departmental personnel committees, whether they be the budget councils or executive committees or extended executive committees or a sub-group designated by that body
  • Faculty members being evaluated have the right to participate in the process, provide input, meet with the review committee, and submit additional materials
  • Faculty members being evaluated have the right to institutional support for improvement and that the support should be a requisite
  • Faculty members being evaluated have access to all appropriate institutional appeals regarding the procedures of evaluation
  • Strong affirmation that safeguards to protect due process and academic freedom be provided
  • Chairs and deans may not override or ignore the committee evaluations

Chair Friedman said ancillary documents will contain specific regulations and procedures but would be totally in accord with the above principles. He added that the Faculty Council would need to vote on the document because it would be included in the Handbook of Operating Procedures should it be approved. Because the document comes from the FCEC, Chair Friedman said there was no need for a second and opened the floor for discussion. When there were no questions or comments, he asked if Council members were ready to vote on the document, and there was a chorus of “nos” from the audience. Chair Friedman asked Provost Steven Leslie if he had any comments or wanted to dispute any of the chair’s presentation about the document; the provost replied, “Not so far.”

Professor Patrick Davis (pharmacy) asked if item E.3. meant the process of evaluation would be determined by the departmental budget council, extended budget council, or executive committee or if it meant the evaluations would actually be conducted by the departmental budget council, extended budget council, or executive committee? Chair Friedman responded that it meant the former rather than the latter because the body in charge might choose to delegate the responsibility for conducting the evaluations to a sub-group or to an alternative body it deemed appropriate. For example, he said there was a large elected executive committee in the English department, which serves as the personnel committee for annual reviews, hiring, promotions, etc. In some cases, subcommittees conduct the evaluations so this allows for that possibility but leaves the established personnel committee responsible for the process. Professor Davis said the budget council or executive committee was responsible for evaluating assistant and associate professors, while the chair and deans evaluated the full professors in some departments. When he asked if this arrangement would be acceptable under the provisions of the proposed document, Chair Friedman said the intent was “not to overthrow local custom.”

Professor Michael Domjam (psychology) asked two questions:

  • If approved by the Council, would the proposed document go through the normal review process?
  • Were there assurances that the provisions would not be reversed or changed in some substantive way?

Chair Friedman replied in the affirmative to both questions. Professor Domjam said he had heard conflicting statements in the presentation pertaining to the role of the dean in overriding departmental recommendations. The chair explained the deans must accept or take into account the recommendations received from the department just as they are supposed to do with regard to promotion recommendations. He added the deans cannot simply ignore the recommendations or change them. However, the deans are free to make recommendations that differ from those they received from the department.  Chair Friedman said he thought that was the intent of the document and what he had intended to convey in his presentation.

Professor Pauline Strong (anthropology) asked if E.4. meant that faculty members would simply be told their respective ranking among the four separate categories, which she referred to as “a, b, c, or d” or if something more would be expected in terms of the written final evaluation?  Chair Friedman said that was an open question because the current document did not specify the level of detail involved in her question.

Professor Brian Evans (electrical and computer engineering and chair, Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility) said faculty members would receive a holistic evaluation of teaching, research, and service in accordance with Regents’ Rule 31102. Chair Friedman agreed, saying this requirement was addressed in F.1. of UT’s proposed document. Professor Evans noted that an “unsatisfactory” rating could trigger additional review, but he wanted to know the difference between “does not meet expectations” and “unsatisfactory.” He asked if there would be any future guidance about the “unsatisfactory” rating since it had serious ramifications for those who received it?  Chair Friedman said he had strongly opposed the categories during the early stages of development of the system advisory committee’s document for submission to the Board of Regents, especially because the categories were not “defined or spelled out in any useful way. He added, “A lot of the things in this document that I suspect people won’t like are the things we have no choice about.” Professor Evans said he thought UT Austin was doing the best that could be done within the context of the new Regents’ Rule; however, he thought the major question was who would make the final holistic evaluation that will be viewed by the public. He asked if that decision would occur at the level of the president or provost? Chair Friedman responded he thought there was a choice now with the breadth of leaving it up the to the individual units to determine what would work best, but he also wondered if UT Austin should further define and refine the process. He then asked the president for his viewpoint on Professor Evans’ question, and President Powers said the descriptions by Chair Friedman and Professor Evans were making the situation as good as UT Austin could get. He agreed that no one would like to be rated as below average or as not meeting expectations, but that designation would not trigger a comprehensive review. With regard to the unsatisfactory rating, he said the University had some experience with that situation. In his six-year tenure as president, he was quite confident, but not absolutely sure, that placement of individuals in the unsatisfactory category had not occurred at the presidential level. He added that this did not mean he would not have the authority to make such a decision, but he did not have a recollection of this occurring, even before his time as president. When Professor Evans asked if the current practice was for such decisions to occur at the level of the provost or the dean, Provost Leslie answered, “The provost level.” After Professor Evans said it was good to know where the final authority was situated, President Powers said to Provost Leslie that he did not recall a case where an individual had received an initial satisfactory review and then been put in the unsatisfactory category by the provost’s office. He added that he could not speak with total confidence on this matter, and everyone should realize that the past was not an absolute promise for the future; however, he thought the actual practice would be reassuring to the faculty. Professor Evans said he inferred from the comments that the process was more bottom up and certainly not top down. When the professor noted this process pertained to the review of tenured faculty and not that of tenure track faculty, President Powers agreed.

Professor Jim Yates (educational administration and special education) suggested there were two different decisions addressed in the document; E.I. dealt with placement in a category whereas E.3. dealt with oversight of the process but did not indicate placement of individuals in the four categories. He said further thought was needed because it might be likely for individuals to assume they could make different decisions other than what emerged from the governance bodies, as indicated in item E.3. He suggested that the same action specified in E.3. should occur in E.1. Professor Evans pointed out that section E pertained to annual reviews and section F of the document pertained to the comprehensive ones done every six years; with two unsatisfactory annual reviews, a comprehensive review may be triggered. He thought it would be good to have consistency between annual and comprehensive reviews.

Chair Friedman said he thought E.1. was what Professor Yates was discussing; Professor Yates agreed but added that E.1. did not state that the action taken by the governance group was described in E.3. Chair Friedman said that was clearly the intent and asked if the wording were unclear. When Professor Yates said he did not think the meaning was clear, Chair Friedman asked if Professor Yates was making an amendment. Professor Yates said his amendment was to use language from E.1. “to be placed in” in E.3. where it says “shall be determine and placed in” under the oversight of the department governance bodies that were listed there. Chair Friedman asked if reversing paragraphs E.1. and E.3. would accomplish the intended results, and Professor Yates said he thought it would.  Professor Yate’s main point was that E.3. clearly says that faculty governance is part of this process; however, without spelling out the action to be taken, he said that role could be assumed by someone else, such as the chair or dean. Chair Friedman said he thought reversing the two paragraphs would do what was wanted and asked if that could be an amendment. Professor Yates agreed that was his amendment, and there was a second from the floor. Chair Friedman clarified that Professor Yates was proposing that the information in paragraphs E.1. and E.3. be reversed within the document. Chair Friedman asked if there was any more discussion of the amendment, and there was none. He called for the vote, and the amendment was unanimously passed by voice vote.

Professor Susan Heinzelman (English) was concerned about the top two ratings, “meets expectations” and “exceeds expectations,” because she thought those classifications would be of great importance in determining merit increases. She added that a balance between general and specific language was needed in order to allow flexibility but prevent a rogue evaluation process from occurring. The process would also need to prevent  situations where departments might come up with specifics that would confine people to one of the two categories. She suggested that anything other than exceeds expectations or does not meet expectations would make it far too complex to decide on merit increases. Chair Friedman said there had been discussion about including a review process for merit decisions in the document, but it was decided this should be a separate document. As a result, he said the document does not specifically address merit increase decisions. Associate Vice President Rene Wallace (provost’s office) concurred.

Professor Shernaz Garcia (special education) noted that previous discussions on the proposal had indicated there would be language specifying that deans could not override or ignore the recommendations from the faculty committee, but she did not see that addressed in the proposal being discussed. Professor Friedman agreed that the language was not included and said he had earlier been referring to language that had been removed. When Professor Garcia asked if the language should not be put back in to the document, Chair Friedman replied, “The document does not grant the deans that authority so, by implication, they don’t have it, as I understand where we are with this.” Professor Garcia said she did not share that interpretation and preferred that the document directly state the expectation that deans cannot ignore the recommendations of the faculty committee. When Professor Friedman asked her if she was offering an amendment, she said she was, and the amended language  could be potentially located under E.4. and F.4. since the statements were parallel in the two sections. Chair Friedman repeated that there would be a new E.4. and F.4 with everything else moved down by one subsequent paragraph. Professor Garcia said she thought E.4. already indicated that the department chair or dean would communicate the final evaluation in writing, so placement of the new language following that sentence might address her concern that the final evaluation should reflect consideration of the faculty committee’s recommendations. She added that the decision needed to reflect consideration of the earlier recommendations by the department budget council or other body since it was assumed that the final authority rests with the chair or dean. After exchanges back and forth between Professor Garcia, Professor Evans, and Chair Friedman, the proposed amendment that emerged was to add the following language to both E.4. and F.3 (instead of F.4.): “The final evaluation must reflect consideration of the recommendations of the departmental evaluation committee.” When Chair Friedman asked if there were a second, several voices were heard seconding the amendment.

Professor Strong said she thought the language in E.3. already clarified roles with the departmental committee determining the evaluation and the chair or dean communicating the final evaluation in writing so she thought “adding reference to the dean might actually muddy things.” Professor Garcia was still concerned that the language did not explicitly say that a departmental recommendation could not be altered at a higher level. President Powers said he had tried to mitigate the concerns that were being raised when he spoke about the pattern of decisions over the past six years, but the provost or president would have the authority to make a decision that differed from that of the departmental evaluation committee. He thought the point that was being made was that an individual could not end up late in the process being rated as “unsatisfactory” without a statement of why the change from the prior rating of the departmental evaluation had occurred. He explained that was how he was interpreting the document as favorable to the concerns that were being raised but still not vesting the legal authority for the final decision in the committee. He said the individuals from the provost’s office and the FCEC have done a commendable job of making this “as palatable and supportive of peer review academic freedom as is possible within the Regents’ Rule” where there are reasonable concerns being raised. President Powers added that he thought an amendment saying the final decision authority does not reside in the upper administration would result in the current document being rejected at the system level, and the development of a new document would have to begin again.

Professor Evans said he was in agreement because if the Board of Regents’ Rule were implemented without any type of “safety value,” it would “chip away at tenure protections.” By keeping the provision that the president or provost has the final decision-making authority, he said academic freedom protection would be retained in case of an appeal.  If the final decision-making authority resides in the departmental committee, with no recourse to the president or provost, Professor Evans said the basic due process argument in UT Austin’s academic safeguards, as defined by the American Association of University Professors, would be lost. Professor Garcia said she had not assumed the departmental committee would be the final decision-making authority because she was aware of the steps in the process. However, she thought it was important for the document to say that there must be consideration of the previous level’s recommendations throughout the entire process and for the individual faculty member to be assured that all the data were being considered should differences in opinion arise in the process.

Chair Friedman said his understanding was the amendment inserted the following language into E.4. and F.3., “The final evaluation must reflect consideration of the recommendation of the departmental evaluation committee.” The discussion, he said, had indicated that the final decision did not have to be in agreement with the recommendation of the departmental evaluation committee, but the recommendation of the committee must be taken into consideration. He asked if there were further discussion, and there was none. Although there were a few no votes (approximately three), the chair declared that the motion had carried. As a result of this vote, the amended language in the document is as follows:

E(4):  The departmental chair (or dean in a non-departmentalized college/school) shall communicate the final evaluation in writing to the faculty member and to the appropriate members of the administration. The final evaluation must reflect consideration of the recommendations of the departmental evaluating committee. The faculty member may prepare a responsive statement, which will be included with the permanent records of evaluation.

F(3): The evaluation committee shall communicate its final evaluation in writing to the faculty member and to the appropriate members of the administration. The final evaluation must reflect consideration of the recommendations of the departmental evaluating committee.

Chair Friedman asked if there were further discussion on the twice-amended motion? Professor James Holcombe (chemistry) asked what level of documentation would be expected on the departmental and college/school evaluations of faculty? He added if the documents were short, he saw no reason why both of them could not go up to the upper administrative level. He was concerned that some departments might submit packages that were similar to those submitted for tenure decisions. Chair Friedman said subsequent documents would need to cover details such as what Professor Holcombe was asking, but he expected this would be left up to the local units. He said some departments had already drafted their document templates, and he would be willing to review them to see if they conform to the current guidelines.  He said he did not think a standard document format would be mandated. Professor Holcombe asked if that might not lead to large discrepancies between the units, and Chair Friedman replied, “yes.” When Professor Holcombe noted the current form was only one page long, Chair Friedman said he thought faculty would want to keep the documents to a minimum. Professor Holcombe countered, saying faculty members might assemble “massive amounts of pages together to protect themselves.” Professor Evans said that the simpler, the better because all documents would be subject to open records requests. He added the documents needed to be very short and professional with no inflammatory information since each faculty member would receive a summary grade. Chair Friedman asked if there were further discussion, and there was none.  He called for the vote, and the amended motion unanimously passed by voice vote.

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