View in portable document format.

2012-2013 Annual Report

A-1 Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility

Faculty members are engaged in fostering critical thinking, and developing and disseminating new knowledge. Having academic freedom in teaching, research, and expression enables a faculty member to critique accepted truths and search for new knowledge, even when it disrupts the status quo. Academic freedom safeguards of tenure, due process, and faculty governance allow faculty members to serve the common good without being controlled by public opinion.

The Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility (CCAFR) advises the president and provost on procedures for due process for faculty members, including procedures in tenure, promotion, faculty annual evaluation, and comprehensive post-tenure review cases, as well as safeguards for academic freedom, including those in teaching, research, and expression. CCAFR also investigates claims by faculty members who allege violations of due process or academic freedom principles, especially in their tenure, promotion, faculty annual evaluation, or comprehensive post-tenure review cases. Please refer to Appendix A. For a short summary of academic freedom principles, see Appendix B. Claims of academic freedom violations are not limited to tenure, promotion, faculty annual evaluations, or post-tenure review cases.

In 2012-13, the work of CCAFR can be divided into three separate subjects, and each subject is described in a separate section in this document:

  • revision of University guidelines for faculty annual evaluations and comprehensive post-tenure review,
  • six investigations of claims of procedural irregularities in tenure and promotion cases, and
  • investigation of a claim of procedural irregularities in a comprehensive post-tenure review.

Comprehensive post-tenure review occurs after every six years in a tenured position with some exceptions [1]. The three sections are next, followed by a section on open issues.

1.     Revision of University Guidelines for Faculty Annual Evaluations and Comprehensive Post-Tenure Review

For annual evaluations and comprehensive post-tenure reviews, CCAFR remains an important appeal avenue for faculty members alleging violations of University procedures (below) and/or academic freedom principles. Academic freedom in teaching, research, and service is defined by the American Association of University Professors (http://www.aaup.org), among other sources, as mentioned in Appendix B. CCAFR does not review disputes about professional judgments concerning the merits of a faculty member’s record. [1]

Here is a summary of what has changed for annual evaluations and comprehensive post-tenure reviews of teaching, scholarship, and service for the 2012-13 academic year: [1][2]

  • UT System and UT Austin are now enforcing their long-standing requirement of written annual evaluations for each tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-track faculty member. [3]
  • Two consecutive overall (aggregate) ratings of “unsatisfactory” on annual evaluations may lead to disciplinary action (e.g. for dismissal) or further review (e.g. comprehensive post-tenure review).
  • Overall (aggregate) ratings are reported to UT System and will likely be made public.
  • The budget council, extended budget council, or executive committee in the faculty member’s home department (or school/college for schools/colleges without departments) oversees both the annual evaluation and the comprehensive post-tenure review:
    • the department chair and/or dean may write a dissenting letter to the findings of the budget council, extended budget council or executive committee, to be included as part of the record;
    • the dean or faculty member may request additional review at the college level in the case of an unsatisfactory comprehensive post-tenure review;
    • in the case of a dissenting letter by the department chair and/or dean, the final rating category for annual review is determined by the department chair or dean of a non-departmentalized college/school; and the final rating for comprehensive post-tenure review is determined by the budget council, extended budget council or executive committee.
  • For both annual evaluations and comprehensive post-tenure reviews, a faculty member must receive from the budget council, extended budget council or executive committee a written evaluation of teaching, research, and service, and an overall (aggregate) rating as described next.
  • One of the following four categories must be assigned to reflect the overall (aggregate) rating: [2][4]
    • exceeds expectations: a clear and significant level of accomplishment beyond what is normal for the institution, discipline or unit
    • meets expectations: normally expected level of accomplishment
    • does not meet expectations: a failure beyond what can be considered in the normal range of year-to-year variation in performance but of a character that appears to be subject to correction
    • unsatisfactory: 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
  • “If the overall [comprehensive post-tenure review] evaluation is unsatisfactory, the written report shall contain sufficient documentation to identify the area(s) of unsatisfactory performance and the basis for the committee’s decision.” [1]
  • “UT Austin is recognized for the outstanding quality of its faculty; therefore it is expected that the vast majority of faculty will be found to meet or exceed expectations as a result of comprehensive review.” [1]
  • A faculty member receiving an “unsatisfactory” comprehensive post-tenure review may request an additional intensive review by the college or school by February 28 and the additional intensive review (if requested) must be completed by May 31. [1]
  • A tenured faculty member undergoing comprehensive post-tenure review is not required to undergo an annual evaluation in the same academic year. [4]
  • Annual evaluation or comprehensive post-tenure review may serve as a basis for merit raises.
  • Comprehensive post-tenure review may form a basis for determining honors and awards. [1]

Since comprehensive post-tenure review was implemented in 1999-2000, fewer than 3 percent of tenured faculty at UT Austin received an “unsatisfactory” comprehensive post-tenure review.

An “unsatisfactory” rating on an annual evaluation or comprehensive post-tenure review has significant consequences for the faculty member. A rating of “unsatisfactory” must be adequately justified in writing in the evaluation. [1-4] CCAFR is a resource available to those who alleged that University procedures and policies were not followed in annual evaluations or comprehensive post-tenure reviews. Appendix A gives information on how to file a claim with CCAFR of alleged violations of University procedures and/or academic freedom principles.

The faculty ombuds is available as a neutral third party to discuss concerns about annual evaluations and comprehensive post-tenure reviews http://www.utexas.edu/faculty/council/ombuds/.

The CCAFR chair is also available for informal discussions of alleged violations of procedures and academic freedom principles.

2. Subcommittee Reports on Claims of Procedural Violations in Tenure/Promotion Cases

In January 2013, six faculty members claimed procedural violations concerning tenure and promotion cases. One of them also alleged a violation of academic freedom.

Assistant professors A and B had been informed of denial of tenure and promotion in December 2011, and that denial was upheld in spring 2012. Assistant professors A and B requested and received approval for reconsideration of their tenure and promotion cases for the 2012-13 academic year from their respective departmental budget councils (or executive committees). Assistant professors A and B were informed of denial of tenure and promotion in December 2012. Both filed CCAFR appeals during the first week of February in 2013.

Assistant professors A and B claimed procedures for reconsideration of tenure and promotion denial in the General Guidelines were not very detailed, especially on the following questions:

  • How are “new materials” evaluated?
  • How are materials from former cases evaluated?
  • How are external reviewers selected?
  • Who defines the scholar’s fields of study in how importance of scholarship is evaluated?
  • What is the role of external reviewers in internal evaluations of research and scholarship?
  • How do budget council evaluators conduct their review, including standards used?

The CCAFR subcommittees for assistant professors A and B did not find evidence of the procedural errors mentioned in faculty appeals primarily because the University’s tenure and promotion reconsideration guidelines are insufficiently clear and detailed. CCAFR plans to address this deficiency in the guidelines by proposing a set of regulations for reconsideration cases to the Provost’s Office. President Powers concurred with the findings.

Assistant professor C alleged that he/she was not given the opportunity to give feedback on potential external reviewers selected by the department, that the external reviewer comments were utilized selectively, and that the dean’s letter inappropriately emphasized the candidate’s record of external funding over other criteria of research productivity and teaching effectiveness. The CCAFR subcommittee found that the candidate had the opportunity to give feedback on the potential external reviewers, external reviewer comments were accurately quoted, the candidate’s third-year review appropriately notes the problem with external funding, and the evaluation of external funding is a matter of professional judgment. The CCAFR subcommittee did not find any evidence of violations of University procedures or academic freedom principles. President Powers concurred with the findings.

Assistant professor D claimed that one of his/her graduate degrees was omitted in the evaluation, that members of the tenure and promotion committee discouraged him/her from reviewing the file, and that he/she did not know that the dean would be writing a statement as part of the tenure and promotion process. CCAFR found substantial procedural violations in the handling of the case, especially with the second issue of the candidate being denied access to the file. CCAFR recommended that assistant professor D be given reconsideration of tenure and promotion. President Powers concurred with the findings.

During the investigation of the appeal by assistant professor D, the CCAFR subcommittee found that the tenure and promotion guidelines for that school/college had not been updated since fall 1996. For example, that school/college required all assistant professors to apply for tenure and promotion after completing four years of the tenure probationary period instead of five years as per University guidelines. As another example, the school/college keeps the identities of the external reviewers from the candidate. In its report, the CCAFR subcommittee recommended that the college/school bring its promotion and tenure practices in line with those of the University. President Powers concurred with those findings as well.

Assistant professor E, who conducts research in ethnic studies, made the following claims: 

  • Candidate did not receive any faculty evaluations other than the third-year review.
  • Candidate was not given the opportunity to review the list of potential external reviewers.
  • Candidate’s ethnic studies research area is disfavored and disregarded in the department.
  • Budget council (or executive committee) evaluated research as being conducted over seven years instead of five years.
  • Letter from director of an ethnic studies center in which the candidate participates was not included in a timely manner.
  • College tenure and promotion committee member said “Why should we care about studying” the ethnic studies area of the candidate.
  • Candidate published in the top journals in the ethnic studies field, but the case was viewed negatively in part because the journals had not yet reached top-tier status (“Catch-22”).

The CCAFR subcommittee found evidence contrary to claim #3, and could neither confirm nor disprove claim #4. The CCAFR subcommittee confirmed substantial procedural violations in #1, #2, #5, and #7 and found an academic freedom violation in #6. CCAFR was reluctant to recommend de novo reconsideration in which all new external reviewers are sought because the candidate’s field is so narrow. With the exception of claim #7, President Powers concurred with the CCAFR findings and recommended that assistant professor E be reconsidered for tenure and promotion through the usual departmental process so that external reviewers could be the same.

Assistant professor F was hired at UT Austin to build a research program primarily based on running laboratory-intensive experiments. However, the candidate was not allocated lab space until the beginning of his second year. Moreover, during the first year, the candidate did not have access to temporary space for ordering and storing equipment. The primary charges follow:

  • The candidate experienced one year of delay in getting access to lab space, which delayed the overall research progress by a year.
  • Third-year review happened at the end of the fourth year and rated the candidate as very good in teaching, satisfactory in research, and very good in service.
  • In the fifth year, the candidate asked the department chair about extending the tenure probationary period, and the department chair said that the candidate’s research progress is satisfactory and dissuaded the candidate from formally requesting an extension.

The CCAFR subcommittee confirmed primary charges #1 and #2, but did not find enough evidence to confirm or disprove primary charge #3. For primary charge #3, there are no current University policies that would have allowed an extension of the tenure probationary period. For primary charge #2, the third-year review came too late for assistant professor F to make significant adjustments for the tenure and promotion package that was assembled one year later.

A secondary charge was that the candidate did not get to see the name of at least one potential external reviewer before the review was solicited and that the external reviewers from any of the institutions from which the candidate received a graduate degree or served as a post-doctoral researcher were excluded. The CCAFR subcommittee confirmed the secondary charges.

The CCAFR committee confirmed several alleged procedural violations and recommended that assistant professor F be reconsidered for tenure and promotion. President Powers asked the CCAFR subcommittee to conduct a follow-up inquiry, which they did. In the July 9 response to both reports, President Powers writes: “On the whole, I conclude that while some issues are acknowledged by the CCAFR subcommittee, they are not sufficient to warrant a reconsideration of the case.” President Powers also asked the provost to consider “expanding the existing probationary period extension policy to include cases in which a candidate is unable to pursue his or her laboratory research program due to capital project delays caused by UT Austin”.

In December 2012, four associate professors and one senior lecturer were denied promotion. In addition, 15 assistant professors were denied tenure and promotion, which gives a tenure rate in 2012-13 of about 80 percent. Based on the claims of violations of University procedures and/or academic freedom principles in the six appeals of tenure denial, CCAFR recommended that two faculty members be given reconsideration (assistant professors D and F) and four not be given reconsideration. President Powers changed the CCAFR recommendations on assistant professors E and F, which meant that two faculty members were given reconsideration and four were not given reconsideration. Even with the decision of tenure reconsideration, assistant professor E decided to accept a tenured position at another university.

3. Claim of Procedural Irregularities in a Comprehensive Post-Tenure Review

In June 2013, associate professor X filed an appeal with CCAFR concerning an unsatisfactory rating for a comprehensive post-tenure review. The appeal alleges several significant procedural violations. The CCAFR investigation is on-going at the writing of this report.

4. Open Issues

CCAFR continues to recommend changes in tenure and promotion processes, as well as annual evaluation and post-tenure review processes, to the president and provost. Both have been very receptive to these recommendations. CCAFR is an integral part of all of these processes.

Here is a partial list of open issues that CCAFR has identified during the last two years in investigating appeals from faculty members who have been denied promotion:

  • There may be a lack of transparency of promotion processes at the college/school level, including how college tenure and promotion committee members are chosen, how members of the same department on the college T&P committee give input on a case, and how the dean is involved in college/school T&P committee meetings and other processes.
  • There is a need for full disclosure by departments and colleges regarding criteria for evaluation and relative weighting of types of scholarship, including peer-reviewed books, peer-reviewed book chapters, and peer-reviewed articles.
  • There is the problem of the “double bind,” or “Catch-22,” which can happen when a candidate is recruited and hired to conduct research in a relatively new field, encouraged to publish results in peer-reviewed journals specialized for the new field, but then told that since their specialized journals are not top-tier, they are denied tenure and promotion.
  • There is a lack of detail and clarity in the tenure and promotion reconsideration guidelines for faculty members seeking redress of a negative tenure and promotion decision, including whether a department should use the same external reviewers, a new set of external reviewers, or some combination of the two in the reconsideration process.
  • There is a potential to consider extensions of the tenure probationary period for reasons other than personal circumstances, including the case in which a candidate is unable to pursue his or her laboratory research program due to capital project delays caused by UT Austin.

CCAFR is also gravely concerned about the proposed UT System Policy 180 on conflict of interest, conflict of commitment, and outside activities, including its disregard of academic freedom principles. A summary of the issues is available online. [6][7]

References

[1] UT Austin procedures for comprehensive (six-year) post-tenure reviews, fall 2012.
http://www.utexas.edu/provost/policies/post_tenure/12-13_Guidelines_Comprehensive_Review.pdf

[2] Board of Regents policies of annual and comprehensive review of tenured faculty members
http://www.utsystem.edu/bor/rules/30000Series/31102.pdf

[3] Former UT Austin policy on “Annual Review and Periodic Evaluation of Tenured Faculty”. Nov. 13, 1997.
http://www.policies.utexas.edu/policies/annual-review-and-periodic-evaluation-tenured-faculty

[4] UT Austin guidelines procedures for faculty annual reviews, fall 2012.
http://www.utexas.edu/provost/policies/annual_review/2012-13%20Guidelines.Annual%20Review1.2.pdf

[5] UT Austin general guidelines for tenure and promotion, fall 2013.
http://www.utexas.edu/provost/policies/evaluation/tenure/TTT+NTT.Guidelines.Fall2013.final.pdf

[6] Comments on UTS 180 [UT System Policy 180], May 28, 2013.
http://users.ece.utexas.edu/~bevans/CommentsOnUTS180.html

[7] UT Austin Faculty Council Web site, May 31, 2013.
http://www.utexas.edu/faculty/council/

Brian Evans, chair