Sad Iron


UW Struggle: Speaking of Post-Tenure Review… Edition


Real Gift Bags have Cheeseburgers

If you are one of my nine readers (Hi Mom! Love you!), or you have been following the UW struggle at all, you know that “post-tenure review” is our most pressing issue… even though it has nothing to do with state divestment in higher education.

But let’s just say for a moment that post-tenure review, once in place, will lead to lower tuition, restored budgets, and a general feeling like fresh-picked flowers: so here’s the question—isn’t it time to end the practice of awarding tenure to incoming administrators as a perk? Surely this is something that the tenure task force, President Cross, and concerned legislators would be concerned about, no? After all, we wouldn’t want an under-performing administrator to just fall back into the classroom, would we?

While faculty stew in a pressure cooker to earn tenure, the majority of administrators are awarded tenure like gift bags at parties, or uni swag, without so much as having taught a course at the institution where they will be working. This is common practice. We all know this. Yes, there are the exceptions, where a faculty member rises through the ranks at an institution, moving on to administration from the tenured ranks. My dean is one such person, and I’ve always wanted to see more of this (I love it when people with a long investment in a school step into administration). I’ve never understood making probationary faculty members jump through the bazillion review hoops of the tenure process while an incoming administrator is gifted the title because “we have to be able to attract the top talent!” I have also seen departments pressured into awarding tenure for administrative hires, fearing repercussions from above, especially via funding, if denied. Yes, I know, many administrators have had careers as faculty and scholars, but as we know now in Wisconsin, timing is of the essence. Are their skills up to snuff? Are they up on the latest research? How are we to know!?

So here we are in the UW, where it’s really important that faculty be reviewed up-to-the-minute and fired if they are “under performing.” The tenure task force is still putting together its document, and UW Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank has been assured that her voice has a special place in the process. That being said, if we are going to implement regular and rigorous post-tenure review for faculty—a review I presume will be based on teaching, research, and service—surely we’re not going to let administrators maintain their tenured status without being judged by the same criteria.

Or are we? Has this been discussed at all?

We all know why an incoming Chancellor or Dean asks for tenure as part of their contract, or a cherry on top, if you will: in case they get canned for…under administrating?…then they can fall back into the classroom where they’ve spent no time whatsoever in recent memory (okay, I’m exaggerating. I know this).  Will post-tenure review for an administrator with tenure be simply a review of their administrative work, which has nothing to do with the criteria faculty must maintain for the same status as “performing”?

Hypothetical scenario: a new post-tenure review policy is implemented. Many serious heads nod in agreement that this new system is good. Soon after, a professor in the Department of Ancient Mating Habits is found to be under performing and put on probation, double-secret probation, and then fired, all based on an analysis of her teaching, research, and service. However, Administrator X, who was awarded tenure in the Department of Ancient Mating Habits as a condition of his being hired, is not subject to post-tenure review by the same measures of teaching, research, and service. Does this person undergo post-tenure review at all, even though they have tenure? If so, is it simply a review of his administrative performance, though he might not measure up to the displaced faculty member in terms of teaching and research?

This has been a long-standing gripe with me, but forget that for now. I guess what I want to know is, as we move into the post-tenure/pretendure era where we’re going to require even more from faculty in terms of performance review, are campuses going to continue to handout tenure to potential administrators as a perk, “just in case”?

It would seem to me that administrators, and I’m talking higher admin here, can’t have it both ways. If things continue moving in their current direction, I’d say it’s probably time to end the practice of awarding tenure to incoming admin who haven’t taught/researched on a particular campus, especially if they’re not expressly being hired to teach and/or do research. And I don’t want to hear any “but we’ll lose top administrative talent!” b.s. Give me a break. Their salaries far exceed those of tenured faculty as it is. (And yes, I understand that faculty are often hired with tenure, but that is specifically for the job of teaching, research, and service.)

My assumption is that President Cross has tenure. So do I, although I had to give up tenure and start over when taking a job at a new UW campus. Did someone like President Cross have to give up tenure as UW Colleges/Extension Chancellor when moving into his role as system President, until he “proved himself”? I would assume not. I guess that’s fine. I get it. I’m a small man who a woman once said reminded her of Pat Boone. But if I can evoke a cliche, the playing field has changed. If legislators are really worried about under performers having tenure, then surely we would, as a base requirement, only extend tenure to people who have gone through the rigorous process in our system, no?

Am I wrong about this? Has this come up at all in the discussion of the tenure task force? Or, as always, is this really only about holding those troublemakers, the “Faculty!”, to standards that don’t apply to others?

I was watching a recent interview with President Cross where he was asked to assess his performance, and the position of the system, based on the budget cuts. He said that of course he wasn’t happy, that $250 million is a huge cut, but hypothetically, it could have been worse. Let’s just say that, in terms of post-tenure review, faculty are not going to be afforded the it could have been worse defense.

But whatever. Maybe this is another complete non-issue that I’m going on about. I got stuck listening to The Price is Right in the oil-change waiting room today, so I may be off balance.


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