MINUTES OF THE REGULAR FACULTY COUNCIL MEETING OF
September 17, 2012


 
V.
UNFINISHED BUSINESS.

A. University of Texas at Austin Guidelines for Implementing the Rules and Regulations of the Board of Regents’ Rule 31102 (D 9686-9688).

Chair Hilley reported that she and Past Chair Alan Friedman had attended a meeting earlier in the day with the UT Austin’s Deans’ Council and representatives of department chairs about the implementation of Regents’ Rule 31102. She asked Provost Steve Leslie and Associate Vice President Renee Wallace to present information about the guidelines to the Faculty Council.

Provost Leslie announced that the new guidelines regarding faculty evaluation, annual evaluations, and the new post-tenure review process had gone into effect as of September 1, 2012.  However, he described the current implementation phase as penultimate and that, as the first year of implementation progresses, final revisions are expected after deans, department chairs, administration officials, and faculty provide comments and suggestions. He noted that he and his staff wanted the process to be faculty-driven and faculty-led. He thanked Past Chair Friedman and Chair Hilley for their work last year on SysFac and with the UT administration to maximize the positive aspects of the new guidelines for the UT Austin campus.

Saying that he expected that many of the Council members were learning about the new policies and procedures for the first time, Provost Leslie provided an overview and background information regarding the new evaluation process, using the PowerPoint presentation attached in Appendix A. He said that Associate Vice President Wallace would expand on his overview with additional details about the new process and procedures. Provost Leslie noted the Texas Education Code was amended to require a comprehensive review of tenured faculty members every six years, known as post-tenure review, back in January of 1998.  Regents’ Rule (RR) 31102 was adopted to implement the legislation, and HOP 2-2150 (previously 3.14) was revised to state the local policy, which included two rating categories: satisfactory and unsatisfactory. He said the previous post-tenure review process was not linked to the review for possible dismissal. The new Rules and Regulations, modified this past February, changed these evaluations for tenured faculty. However, the provost stressed that the new periodic evaluations are “intended to enhance and protect, not diminish, the important guarantees of tenure and academic freedom” and asked that the changes, which expand on the existing policy, be considered positively.

Provost Leslie said Regents’ Rule 31102 expands the number of rating categories used for faculty reviews. He reported that faculty performance on both the annual and the comprehensive reviews will now be rated in one of the following four categories: exceeds expectations, meets expectations, fails to meet expectations, and unsatisfactory.

The provost emphasized that the new “policies strongly affirm the quality of UT faculty, the value of tenure, and the positive function of post-tenure review… recognize the excellence of the faculty….  affirm safeguards to protect due process and academic freedom for our faculty.” He further stressed that “individual faculty have the right to provide inputs during the process… receive institutional support for improvement, e.g., teaching effectiveness assistance, counseling, mentoring, and perhaps other things… invoke standard appeal procedures… meet with the review committees… and to submit additional materials.” He continued, “The review and evaluation process will be determined and overseen by departmental faculty personnel committees or smaller groups determined by them.” He added that this meant it was the budget council or the executive committee or a committee designated by the budget council or executive committee that should determines the evaluations. Provost Leslie stressed the point that “chairs and deans may not override or ignore committee evaluations.” Based on the evaluations, the provost said faculty members are to receive guidance to enhance their professional skills over the course of their long careers, thus providing a positive environment. The process will ensure that faculty fulfill their responsibilities, as well as establish a basis for “merit raises, honors awards, and other forms of recognition” as materials are assessed “focusing on individual merit and record of teaching, scholarship, and service to determine the review category.” The provost added that, should a faculty member receive an unsatisfactory rating, a development plan must be established and monitored.

The provost then introduced Associate Vice President Wallace who informed faculty members that there would be guideline documents, in addition to the official Handbook of Operating Procedures, that will outline policy revisions pertaining to promotion and tenure as well as the annual and comprehensive reviews. She outlined the materials that were to be included in a six-year comprehensive review as the following: “annual faculty activity report, current CV, student evaluations of teaching (including written student comments), and additional materials as available, such as: peer teaching observations…. any other documentation as directly related to the record of teaching, scholarship, and service… and any information that the faculty member wants to submit to be considered as part of their review.”

Associate Vice President Wallace then elaborated on the four rating categories as follows:
  • Exceeds expectations is a clear and significant level of accomplishment, beyond what is normal for the institution, the discipline, unit, and faculty rank.
  • Meets expectations is a level of accomplishment normally expected.
  • Fails to meet expectations is a failure beyond what can be considered the normal range of year-to-year variation
    in performance, but of a character that appears to be subject to correction.
  • Unsatisfactory is failing to meet expectations in a way that reflects disregard of previous advice or other efforts to provide correction or assistance or involves prima facie professional misconduct, dereliction of duty, or incompetence.


    The associate vice president explained that faculty careers experience highs and lows, so the third category, fails to meet expectation, needed to take annual variation in performance into context, but the unsatisfactory category indicated a “significant level of failure.”  She went on to explain that the annual reviews are “overseen by the departmental budget council, extended budget council, or executive committee… and apply to all active faculty, tenured and nontenured,” unless they are on leave without pay for the entire year under review. She added that faculty members undergoing their six-year comprehensive review would not have to submit an annual review at the same time. She explained that the rating a faculty member received would reflect an aggregate of teaching, research, and service evaluations. Additionally, the rating is to be communicated to the faculty member in writing and should include any recommendations for improvement even if the rating states that the faculty member meets or exceeds expectations. For unsatisfactory evaluations, a statement should identify areas of unsatisfactory performance, and the faculty member, together with the department chair, would then be required to establish a written development plan within thirty days that includes tangible goals for measuring success to improve faculty performance to an acceptable level. This progress must be monitored during the following year.

The associate vice president then reported that a faculty member who receives two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings could be subject to a comprehensive review or disciplinary action. In this situation, she said it would be the responsibility of the department chair and the dean to determine what action to take. Prior to taking any action, however, the faculty member would be advised that he or she has the right to appeal or aggrieve the rating. After discussing some details about six-year comprehensive reviews, such as the locus for faculty members with multiple appointments and the timeline for six-year comprehensive reviews, she pointed out that the comprehensive review should be “more of a full-blown report, as opposed to the annual review.” The faculty member should be granted an opportunity to meet with the committee and to potentially provide additional materials before the report was finalized. Any written comments by the faculty member would become part of the final documentation, which would be communicated in writing to the faculty member, the chair, and the dean. She also stated that if an unsatisfactory review were communicated to the college level “a more intensive review may be initiated by either the dean or the faculty member.” In this case, another committee would be appointed with membership representative of the college, selected based on objectivity and academic strength, with members at the same or higher rank as the faculty member receiving the unsatisfactory rating.  She explained that the committee membership would be different from that of the promotion and tenure committee if the promotion and tenure committee were a subset of the budget council. This committee could request additional information from the faculty member and provide the faculty member with an opportunity to meet. The second committee’s findings were to be reported within three months from when the committee was established.

The associate vice president then reported that the timetable had not changed from that of the previous six-year post-tenure review process, which is posted on the provost’s website. She also explained that a development support plan could be established for anybody, regardless of the assigned rating, since this should be seen as an instrument of commitment to specific professional development goals and strategies for the upcoming year rather than a disciplinary action. However, the development plan must be completed for anyone receiving an unsatisfactory rating with monitoring required to determine if sufficient improvement has occurred. She also pointed out that department chairs and deans of non-departmentalized colleges and schools were responsible “for the academic quality of their instruction programs and expected to act whenever necessary to maintain their programs at the highest possible level” even outside the review cycle. Associate Vice President Wallace emphasized that faculty members still “retain the right to avail themselves of these normal appeal channels to the next higher administrative level, the Grievance Committee, the Committee of Council on Academic Freedom and Responsibilities, if there are procedural irregularities or academic freedom violations, or the Faculty Ombudsperson.”

Associate Vice President Wallace concluded her presentation with a reminder that, while the rating categories have changed, the evaluation process overall remains very similar to the previous one. She then opened the floor for questions. When Professor Gretchen Murphy (English) asked why the existing six-year review was still necessary, the associate vice president said the six-year review is much more comprehensive with increased time and effort put into evaluating other activities, as well as research and teaching, than the annual review. She said the annual review is not much more than going through the annual report and any current process currently used “in evaluating and determining what merit increases might be assigned to somebody, as opposed to spending maybe a few more weeks really digging in a little bit deeper.” Provost Leslie added that Regents’ Rules and Texas law mandate both the annual and six-year reviews.

Professor Bill Beckner (mathematics) asked if a comprehensive review should be deferred if it were scheduled at the same time as a promotion evaluation. Associate Vice President Wallace replied that was a possibility to ease the administrative burden. However, she pointed out that it might be just as easy to use the same materials to do the comprehensive review because a deferral could only be for one year. When Professor Beckner asked what would happen if the reviewing faculty committee’s decision was divided and not unanimous, the associate vice president said the outcome would be based on the opinion of the majority of the committee members, just as in promotion cases.

Chair Elect Hart asked for a further explanation regarding the four ratings, and especially the difference between “fails to meet expectations” and “unsatisfactory.” President Powers stressed that a lot of changes were made as a result of the work that had gone into the new guidelines, and items such as faculty committee decisions and appeals would not have been included if it were not for the hard work of a number of individuals, especially Provost Leslie and Past Chair Friedman. He speculated much of the content of the guidelines would not have been included if UT Austin members had written them. However, he also conceded that in a large institution, such as UT Austin, there would be some employees who are not doing adequate work, and this had resulted in the distinction between satisfactory and unsatisfactory. He said some employees might just get by on a satisfactory rating but could well be advised to work on certain aspects of their performance. President Powers admitted that the Regents were quite justified in asking if the evaluative process should not be more granulated. He said that at present he thought more granulated evaluations are being performed for merit increases even though the raise pool has been quite limited.  Other internal decisions at UT, such as lab space allocations, promotions, chairs and professorships, summer grants, etc., also involve more granulated reviews. He perceived that the new ratings were based on this need for a more granulated evaluation process. Although he thought the new rating system might not be granulated enough for those kinds of decisions, he said that other factors come into play, such as responses to strategic market pressures, i.e., counter offers or departmental needs. As a result, faculty members with similar ratings might not get similar results when evaluated, depending on departmental visions and plans. Some faculty members could receive greater raises in comparison to those received by others, simply because their work aligns better with a strategic plan. His concern, however, was that “the evaluations may be too granulated for dismissal but not granulated enough for some other decisions.” He said he hoped there would not be a need for two separate evaluations each year, and that department chairs would make notes during the evaluation that could be used for the other needs to ease the administrative and bureaucratic burden.

Professor Janet Davis (American studies) asked what an actual annual report would look like in comparison to a post-tenure review packet. Associate Vice President Wallace responded that she hoped the annual review could possibly be a form, including the actual rating on top and stating recommendations for improvement, if applicable, below. She thought the evaluations for merit increases could be used to produce the ratings used for the annual review. The associate vice president then mentioned that a revised, in-house designed, electronic faculty annual report format was just presented to the provost and vice provost and would soon be ready for presentation to a group of faculty members for their input. She thought this new system might simplify the process, including a field for the rating, and she hoped the system might include a way to notify faculty and allow an opportunity for the faculty member to add his or her comments.

Professor Yolanda Padilla (social work) asked for some clarification regarding the initiation of the termination or dismissal process. Associate Vice President Wallace reiterated that one unsatisfactory rating would put into place a development plan prepared in conjunction with the department chair, with progress monitored for one year. If the faculty member received another unsatisfactory rating the next year, that situation would “open the door for the department chair, in conjunction with the dean and the provost, to decide to either do a more comprehensive review at that point or to initiate some disciplinary action,” if warranted. Provost Leslie interjected that the usual institutional process would be initiated at that point, which he said is “rather laborious.” Associate Vice President Wallace noted that any termination process has to be for good cause; she added that the Regents’ Rules “may be one of the elements of establishing good cause for termination.” President Powers stated that an unsatisfactory rating in the old post-tenure review process was not linked to termination. He said that other factors, however, could be linked to termination for cause, and he added, “there were always things people can do to get terminated.” He assured Council members that substantive standards for termination remained the same now as they were in 1998 or in 2005, and have not changed with this new document.

Professor Michael Domjan (psychology) appreciated the work that had gone into the new guidelines but wanted to know at what stage the report was considered completed and would be communicated with the faculty member as the final result. He said this was important, especially when disagreement occurred between the faculty committee and the department chair or the chair and the dean. Associate Vice President Wallace responded that this issue was still an open question and had been raised at the deans’ meeting earlier in the day. She said the issue required further discussion, and she would be working with Past Chair Friedman and Chair Hilley on revising the pertinent language. She expressed hope that the decisions could be made soon and said the guidelines would be explicit when finally posted. She added, “It’s a little bit clearer in the six-year review, because there’s a very specific timeline.”  By February 1, the faculty member should know the results of the departmental evaluation; if there is a dean’s evaluation involving an unsatisfactory rating that requires an additional review, she thought she remembered that the timeline specified a deadline of February 28, with the faculty member receiving the report no later than May 31. She explained that the administration had not prescribed a similar timeline for the annual reports because of existing variation as to when departments perform their annual reviews.  She said there could be a uniform timeline for both reports in the future, but this was not true at present.

In closing, Associate Vice President Wallace emphasized once more that the guidelines with its revisions would be made available for all faculty members and that they were considered an “ongoing living document that will be clarified as opportunities arise.” Chair Hilley thanked both the provost and associate vice president for their presentations and asked the Council members to rewarded them with applause.

 
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