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2013-2014 Annual Report
A-1 Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility

Committee members:
Dana Cloud, Chair
Hannah Wocjiehowski
Desmond Lawler
David Hillis
David Sokolow
Linda Reichl
Trish Roberts-Miller
Sonia Seeman
Jody Jensen

INTRODUCTION

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 (CPTR) 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 CPTR cases. Please refer to provost’s guidelines regarding promotion and tenure cases. Claims of academic freedom violations are not limited to tenure, promotion, faculty annual evaluations, or post-tenure review cases.

In 2013-14, the work of CCAFR has been divided into three separate subjects, and each subject is described in a separate section in this document:
  1. Conclusion of the investigation of a 2013 claim of procedural irregularities in a post-tenure review;
  2. Seven investigations of claims of procedural irregularities and academic freedom violations in tenure and promotion cases, and
  3. Suggestions for revision of University guidelines for faculty annual evaluations and comprehensive post-tenure review.
The three sections are next, followed by discussions of additional recommendations and concerns.

1. Subcommittee Report on Claim of Procedural Violations in a Post-Tenure Review Case


Last year there were substantial changes in the rules for annual evaluations and post-tenure review including the enforcement of written annual evaluations and the implementation of a four-category evaluation system in which faculty members evaluated to be “Unsatisfactory” in their performance are subject to discipline.

In June 2013, Professor A received a rare “Unsatisfactory” rating in their post-tenure review under the 2012-2013 Guidelines for Comprehensive Periodic Review of Tenured Faculty. In particular, Professor A contended that there were no written guidelines in their department or school at the time that their CPTR was conducted. The candidate argued that the term “Unsatisfactory” was misused, as the candidate had not met the strict criteria for that category (disregard of previous correction, professional misconduct, dereliction of duty, and/or incompetence). Additionally, the “Unsatisfactory” result was not a true aggregate (as the rules require) of teaching (meets expectations), service (meets expectations), and research (unsatisfactory) scores. Furthermore, Professor A contended that the candidate was not notified of the dean’s preliminary report before it was shared with the provost, the department/school executive committee was not accurately charged, the evaluation had no clear basis in institutional policy, and the resulting review was neither fair nor thorough.

The CCAFR subcommittee appointed to this case found merit in Professor A’s claim that the evaluation provided inadequate rationale. The subcommittee confirmed the absence of written evaluations in the college in question, and the failure of its dean to direct Professor A to appropriate avenues of appeal. The CPTR was the first written evaluation that Professor A received after being promoted to associate professor. The subcommittee found that the “Unsatisfactory” rating was not justified as required by Guidelines §4.a and 5.g, the rating did not appear to be an aggregate as required by Guidelines §4.b, and the CPTR committee inappropriately proceeded as if Professor A was being reconsidered for tenure. The committee recommended that Professor A’s rating be revised to “Does not meet expectations.” It recommended that the college process be revised to include annual written reports, signed and dated. It recommended that the provost introduce language clarifying the meaning of “aggregate” in the language of Guideline §4.b.

Professor A’s dean filed a document disagreeing with the subcommittee’s report and the matter is now closed. According to Janet Dukerich, senior vice provost for academic affairs, “CCAFR cases for comprehensive periodic reviews are submitted to the dean in the respective college for final disposition.  The subcommittee submitted its report to Dean XXXX in the fall and he responded.” A question arises: What recourse does the candidate have for appeal beyond this point? Given that the dean is an implicated party in the dispute, shouldn’t the final decision rest with the higher administration?

2. Investigations of Claims of Procedural Irregularities in Tenure and Promotion Cases

Professor B came to CCAFR with claims that the dean failed to subtract two years of health leave from the tenure clock, evaluating the candidate on the basis of seven years in rank rather than five. Slower productivity during the leave years was held against the candidate, the candidate argued. The CCAFR subcommittee assigned investigated and reported that the Promotion and Tenure (P&T) process in this case violated Guideline A3b. The committee found that the dean’s letter was explicit in assessing the candidate’s productivity over the entire seven years. We believe that this statement constituted a procedural violation and recommended reconsideration for tenure without prejudice. The president disagreed, indicating that the coming year will be this faculty member’s terminal year.

Professor C filed a case with CCAFR alleging that lack of guidance and feedback during dossier preparation was a procedural violation in their case. The candidate was explicitly discouraged in writing from reviewing the dossier as the case moved up. In addition, Professor C claimed that there were also academic freedom violations, namely that the chair’s letter used the decreasing viability of the subfield for which Professor C was hired as a rationale for denial of promotion; and that their department delayed the startup of their lab for two years, thus cutting short the scholar’s research trajectory. The subcommittee assigned to this case agreed that the explicit discouragement of access to the file and the startup delay constituted serious violations. In its report, the committee recommended that Professor C receive reconsideration without prejudice. The president disagreed that these errors had an impact on the case, indicating that 2014-15 will be the faculty member’s terminal year.

Professor D approached CCAFR with a claim that there were procedural and academic freedom irregularities in their case. At issue here were problems of mentoring and guidance, along with mistakes in the promotion process. Specifically, Professor D alleged that they received no meaningful feedback or guidance in the preparation of their dossier. More importantly, the candidate argued that during the P&T process, significant new information appeared that would have affected its outcome. However, despite an appeal from the candidate, the process moved forward and Professor D was denied tenure. CCAFR has recommended in the past that in such cases, the process should be paused and the candidate should have access to the file and opportunity to update and correct it before moving forward. These recommendations were not followed in Professor D’s case. Moreover, Professor D was discouraged from reviewing their dossier at all. As for the corrections requested by Professor D, the dean stated that they were presented orally to the provost although they were not present in the physical file. The subcommittee concluded that there was a significant error in not allowing the file to be amended and corrected by the candidate, and recommended reconsideration without prejudice. The president disagreed and indicated that 2014-15 would be the faculty member’s terminal year.

Professor E appealed to CCAFR regarding two instances of what the candidate regarded to be procedural and academic freedom violations. The first of the procedural violations was listed as denial of access to the dossier. A second procedural claim was the alleged failure of the internal promotion process to take into account two years of approved leave when evaluating scholarly productivity.  External letter writers indicated that they were evaluating the candidate on an eight-year time frame and had not been instructed otherwise. The claim of violation of academic freedom was based on denial of access to data. The candidate had been invited to review and publish institutional data. Following submission of a manuscript based on these data, the candidate was denied further data access to address journal reviewer requests for revisions.

The CCAFR subcommittee assigned to this case concluded that there were significant violations both of procedure and principles of academic freedom. The subcommittee recommended reconsideration without prejudice. The president acknowledged irregularities but did not find them to have had a negative effect on the candidate’s case. The committee’s recommendation was rejected, and the president indicated that 2014-15 would be the candidate’s terminal year.

The subcommittee wishes to highlight the point about the extension of the probationary period. This year, there were two faculty members for whom the extensions of the probationary period were ignored and they were penalized with regard to expectations of productivity.

Professor F submitted a letter to CCAFR arguing that the procedure in their promotion and tenure case violated §B.1.b-c of the provost’s guidelines. The candidate was discouraged from accessing their dossier. Their chair withheld information about departmental and college votes, which the candidate had requested directly. With regard to a possible violation of academic freedom, the candidate stated that the candidate was evaluated by standards that emerged only after their hiring. These standards devalued the sub-area in which the candidate was hired to research and teach. The CCAFR subcommittee assigned to the case acknowledged one of these violations, the right to have access to department and college votes, and recommended reconsideration without prejudice. The president agreed, and Professor F will be reconsidered in 2014-15.

Professor G came to CCAFR with claims that their tenure and promotion case was marred by procedural violations, namely denial of access to their dossier and a delay in startup funding that seriously affected their ability to get research into the pipeline in a timely way. During the subcommittee’s investigation, The University reversed its original decision, and Professor G was granted tenure.

Professor H submitted a review request describing the inclusion of incorrect information in their dossier and a failure by their chair to alert the candidate to the inclusion of some potentially incorrect and damaging information in the chair’s letter. The information in question involved charges about issues of academic integrity and the involvement of an ad hoc ethics committee. The timeline of the case was complex. However, after very careful consideration, the CCAFR subcommittee assigned to the case found that Professor H’s claims had no basis according to the guidelines. The president agreed. See recommendation 3c, below, for further discussion.

3. Recommended Revisions to the Provost’s Guidelines

Even when the subcommittee does not recommend, and/or when the president does not favor, granting candidates for promotion and tenure reconsideration, CCAFR regards these troubling cases as opportunities for clarifying the provost’s guidelines on the P&T process. This year, we identified three areas where the guidelines could be amended. First, several of the cases indicated that deans and chairs sometimes discourage the candidate from viewing their dossier. While the president argued that such advice (in either oral or written form) does not constitute a denial of access, we disagree. Junior faculty may feel compelled to accept this advice for fear of endangering their case. Access to the information in the files could have headed off a number of complaints this year. A second common issue was the assessment of a candidate without taking care to acknowledge any extensions to the probationary period. External reviewers should receive instructions (in the invitation to write a letter about a candidate) that explicitly point out any extensions and direct the reviewer to consider productivity only during the time that the faculty member was on the clock. The third issue regards cases where there are questions of academic integrity.

We respectfully recommend the following additions to the Guidelines:
  1. In guidelines §B.1.b, language could be added to the effect of, “Under no circumstances should any administrator discourage a candidate from viewing any parts or all of their promotion dossier at any stage in the tenure and promotion process. No one should penalize a candidate who asks to view their file, and candidates’ access to their files should not be a rationale for undervaluing strong letters.”
  2. In guidelines §B.2.b, language could be added to the effect of, “When soliciting referees, the chair should point out any special circumstances that should be taken into account by the reviewer. These circumstances include instances where the candidate has received extensions of the probationary period. External reviewers must be instructed on UT policies for tenure-clock extensions and that UT policy mandates that such extensions, when given, must be considered without negative consequence for the candidate.”
  3. In a unique case this year, a faculty member’s academic integrity was called into question and this discussion became part of the promotion and tenure process. Investigation of the accusation became embroiled in the discussions regarding consideration for promotion and tenure. The relevant sections of the General Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure of All Faculty Ranks are §B.1.c and B.1.d. In this case, the chair’s letter raised a concern about the candidate’s academic integrity, thus inserting the issue into the P&T discussion. Pursuant to guidelines §B.1.c, the candidate claimed that the information presented by the chair was subject to the requirement to notify the candidate. This claim was supported by a portion of §B.1.c: “When such information is added to the promotion dossier after the department chair has asked the candidate to check the materials in the promotion dossier, it shall be date stamped and placed in a separate folder labeled Additional Statements … The candidate shall be informed of its inclusion and permitted an opportunity to place a statement in the file addressing this addition.”
The CCAFR subcommittee found no procedural error in the specifics of this case. However, there was consensus that accusations of academic integrity should be removed to the fullest extent possible from the promotion and tenure process. Current language in the guidelines allows for a decision to separate the processes or continue as stipulated in the guidelines. As §B.1.d states, “The chair or dean, in consultation with the provost and president, may delay the tenure and promotion process until the matter is resolved by an appropriate body separate from the tenure and promotion process.  Because the guidelines allow the choice to delay or proceed with the P&T discussion, the CCAFR subcommittee found no procedural error. In practice, however, it is difficult to see how the P&T evaluation could proceed untainted by the accusation of academic integrity.

It is our recommendation that the language of the guidelines §B.1.d be modified to mandate a cessation of P&T review until investigation and resolution of issues beyond the scope of the P&T process are resolved. Further, any charges regarding academic integrity should be directed from the chair to the dean for appropriate disposition. Only after full resolution of the accusation has been reached should the P&T process be initiated.

4. Other Recommendations

This year’s CCAFR subcommittees have offered a number of other recommendations.
  1. Based on the experience of Professor E, members suggest that the Office of Information Management and Analysis publish criteria and procedures for gaining access to institutional data. All parties involved in this case acknowledge that the restriction of access to data occurred as UT reviewed internal policies regarding data protection. To date, the candidate has not received any information regarding what information or stipulations must be met to continue working with the original dataset. For this candidate and all future faculty members who may become involved with institutional data, assurances must be put in place that allow closure of scholarly projects in a timely manner.
  2. We recommend that deans and chairs across the University be reminded each year of the guidelines’ instructions regarding access to materials. Departments, colleges, and schools should be monitored for compliance with policy regarding annual written reviews, third-year reviews, and post-tenure reviews.
  3. It would be helpful if each person coming up for promotion discuss the provost’s guidelines with their chair and/or dean (or a representative) and sign off on them.
  4. We recommend that all departments and schools across the campus develop and implement explicit mentoring plans for all assistant professors, with attention to specific obstacles facing some women and faculty of color.
  5. In cases of faculty research requiring laboratories, the probationary period should be extended by the number of semesters of delay if the laboratory is not available for use for more than one semester after the arrival of the faculty member.
  6. We are concerned about the president’s response in more than one case that corrections to a candidate’s record occurred orally during a dean’s presentation of the case to the provost, and that their being absent from the written file was of little or no consequence. The oral presentations are not recorded or transcribed, their participants are not accountable to the candidate or other decision-makers, and the candidate can never know whether their concerns were relayed faithfully. All corrections and supplements requested by the candidate to their dossier should be added in writing and confirmed to be present in the file before the case proceeds. Otherwise, the absence of information used as a basis for evaluation should be recognized as an instance of procedural violation.
5. Discussion of Other Concerns:

We would like to explore the definition and implications of academic freedom. Tenure protects academic freedom in general by providing a condition of economic security and latitude in research, writing, and teaching. (Please see http://www.aaup.org/report/1940-statement-principles-academic-freedom-and-tenure for the basics.) Some instances of violations of academic freedom are straightforward. But what about less obvious cases? For example, we argued in the case of Professor E that being denied access to necessary data constituted a violation of academic freedom. Here is the AAUP’s defining statement: “Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties.” The University should not pose a barrier to full freedom to conduct research and publication. Denial of access to data is such a barrier.

In his letters responding to our reports, the president does not recognize these instances as violations of the principle of academic freedom. We believe that the committee’s work would be aided by further conversation with the president and provost’s office on this matter.

Respectfully submitted,
cloud signature.jpg
Dana L. Cloud, CCAFR Chair
For the committee