MINUTES OF THE REGULAR FACULTY COUNCIL MEETING OF
September 19, 2011

 

 
V.
UNFINISHED BUSINESS.

A. Proposed Revisions to UT Austin’s Handbook of Operating Procedures 3.16, Threatened Faculty Retrenchment (D 8936-8939).

Chair Friedman introduced Professor Janet Staiger (radio-television-film, and former Council chair) and said she had taken the lead on this issue of importance to the faculty. Professor Staiger said the legislation she was presenting addressed a situation that occurred at least three years ago when she served as chair of the Faculty Council.  She explained that the incident triggered concern about faculty retrenchment that occurred at the University of Texas at Galveston when a series of lay-offs followed the extensive damage sustained at the medical facility from Hurricane Ike. She said the process used to eliminate faculty positions did not adhere to commonly accepted standards.  As a result, the UT Board of Regents and System attorneys deemed it important to revise the Regents’ Rules about termination of programs or termination in case of financial exigency and brought the issue to the UT System Faculty Advisory Council (SYSFAC).  Professor Staiger explained that SYSFAC, which is comprised of two representatives from each of the System’s academic and medical institutions, developed a model policy on these issues. As one of UT Austin’s representatives on SYSFAC, she brought the model policy back to campus with the directive that each institution was to create its own extended version of the Regents’ Rules policy.

Professor Staiger said the policy developed here at UT Austin followed the SYSFAC model, but the proposed legislation did not receive approval by the University’s administration.  She reported that Council leaders revised the proposed policy last year to bring it “more in line with the Regents’ Rules and with what President Powers thought would be acceptable.” The Faculty Council once more approved the legislation with one protest filed when the legislation was sent to the General Faculty for no-protest consideration. The protest asked for a more liberal statement of the policy than the faculty leaders had been able to achieve in their negotiations with the administration at that time.  After continuing the negotiations with the administration over the summer, Professor Staiger said she thought the revised version of the proposed policy would be accepted by the president, should the Faculty Council and the General Faculty approve it in its current form.

Professor Staiger summarized the policy currently in place, which is described in Section 3.16 of the Handbook of Operating Procedures (HOP) and titled Threatened Faculty Retrenchment. She said HOP 3.16 states that faculty groups will be consulted in any cases involving retrenchment, and the Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility would be involved in an advisory role. In addition, Professor Staiger said the current policy recommends that efforts be made to provide for reassignment of faculty members whose positions are eliminated.

Although Professor Staiger said she did not think the proposed changes to Regents’ Rules were in opposition to the current policy, she perceived that they involved renaming HOP 3.16 to Abandonment of Academic Positions or Programs. This revised statement would apply if the University abandoned a program or was faced with the broader problem of financial exigency. Section I of the proposed legislation, the statement of General Policy, says the University will follow Regents’ Rules and provide faculty with a major role in any decisions involving elimination of a program or number of faculty positions. Section II of the legislation, which has to do with abandoning academic programs or positions due to academic or budgetary reasons, says the president would consult with the Faculty Council and impacted units to determine the best way to proceed to safeguard faculty rights, including tenure rights. In consultation with the FCEC, the president would appoint a review committee, comprised of at least one-half faculty members and the Faculty Council chair or the chair’s designee, to make recommendations. The impacted faculty would contribute to the review and be kept informed as the process progressed. Following the review, a recommendation would be submitted to the president who would then decide whether or not the academic program would be abandoned and would then inform the System’s executive vice chancellor as well as the impacted faculty. The faculty members, who are adversely affected by the decision, could appeal using either the University’s grievance process or the reconsideration process specified in Section IV of the proposed legislation, depending on the reasons given for their appeals.

Professor Staiger said Section III of the proposed legislation specifies the procedures for a widespread problem involving the declaration of institutional financial exigency.  In this case, the president would inform the Faculty Council and all units about the situation, and the procedures specified previously regarding the elimination of programs or positions would be followed. In this case, the president would appoint an exigency committee and provide the members with the general criteria in making recommendations. The exigency committee would include both administrators and faculty members, with faculty representatives comprised of at least one-half of the committee’s membership; at least one-half of the faculty representatives on the committee would be appointed from a list of faculty recommended by the Faculty Council.  The majority of the faculty on the committee should be tenured, and any non-tenured or tenure-track faculty appointees should be senior faculty with considerable experience at the University. Other recommendations included the following:

  • The committee should represent the University as a whole.
  • The committee should work quickly.
  • The committee should specifically identify the programs under review.
  • The committee should be thorough in its evaluation of course offerings and the quality, centrality, funding, productivity, etc. of the programs and faculty positions under review.
  • The committee should provide a written report, listing specific programs and positions recommended for elimination.
  • The committee should have information available that allows its members to make good determinations of the situation for decision-making and recommendations.
  • If other individuals are involved in the exigency review process, their identities should be disclosed.     

An effort to protect tenure rights was made by including the following statement that was similar to recommendations issued by the American Association of University Professors, “The appointment of a faculty member with tenure will not be terminated in favor of retaining a faculty member without tenure, except in extraordinary circumstances where serious distortion of the academic program would otherwise result.” Faculty, whose positions were threatened, would be provided opportunities to contribute to the review process. Following the review process, the president would receive the exigency committee’s recommendations, make the final decisions, and notify the individuals involved.

Professor Staiger reported that a good deal of the negotiation had dealt with Section IV of the proposed legislation, where the procedures for appeal are specified, and that this was the section where changes from the version previously approved by the Council exist.  The proposed legislation provides for two different appeals processes that are based on the grounds used by the appellants.  For appeals made on the grounds that “(1) Financial exigency was not in fact the reason for the initial decision to reduce academic positions; or (2) The decision to terminate the appellant as compared to another individual in the same discipline or teaching specialty was arbitrary and unreasonable based on the evidence presented,” the faculty members would use the hearing process specified in the Regents’ Rules.  In these cases, the president would establish the hearing committee, which could not consider any other issues. For appeals on grounds other than those listed in (1) and (2) above, faculty members would use the faculty grievance procedures specified in HOP 3.18 and Flowchart 3, beginning at Step 5 with the request for a hearing. Members of the hearing committee for these cases would be faculty members drawn from the regular faculty grievance hearing pool. The grounds for these cases might involve race or gender discrimination, or violations of academic freedom, but they are not limited to these examples. 

In Section V of the proposed legislation, Professor Staiger pointed out a statement providing some protection against new faculty appointments being made in the same subject matter areas where terminations had occurred, as well as a statement providing some protection for tenure rights. In addition, there was a statement saying that former faculty members, who have been terminated, should have rights to first consideration for vacancies occurring in their teaching fields. Lastly, Professor Staiger noted that terminated faculty members with on-going research projects should be granted a reasonable amount of time to non-destructively close down their research.

Chair Friedman said the motion presented by Professor Staiger did not need a second because it had come from the FCEC and opened the floor for comments and discussion. Being none, he called for the vote, and the motion was unanimously approved by voice-vote.  Chair Friedman thanked Professor Staiger and said the legislation would now go to the General Faculty for their consideration on a no-protest basis.

 

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