Monday, August 11, 2014

A Question of Policy: Hiring after a Tenure Decision

Chapter President David Knowlton has worked through this issue in behalf of the Department of Integrated Studies, whose choice of Scott Carrier for a one-year lectureship was denied by Vice President Ian Wilson and then again by new Vice President Jeffrey Olson on the grounds that after a member of the faculty is denied tenure he or she cannot be hired into a lectureship.

Note that this is a completely different department, with very different needs from the department (Communications) that denied tenure.

The question is broader than a specific hire by a specific department. For a Vice President to simply veto a hire is a serious matter. What, then, should the relationship be between departments and the administration in the case of hiring? What are the principles of shared governance involved?

AAUP Evaluation of AVP Action
June 11, 2014

On AVP Non-Support of a Departmentʼs Chosen Candidate for Hire

The Question

A question of the relative balance between faculty rights and Academic Vice Presidency competencies in the question of a department proposing for hire as a lecturer someone who was denied tenure in a different department has come before Utah Valley Universityʼs AAUP chapter. In this specific case UVUʼs AVP expressed non- Support for the candidate.

Basic Principle
To begin a consideration of this issue we must note the university depends on a basic principle: professors are the best persons within the university to determine the nature and content of their disciplines any time such appears as an issue in any university process. While this principle should be balanced with structural and administrative concerns, this principle must remain supreme unless there is an extremely important reason to limit it. Even then the limits must recognize, support, reassert, and value this principle.

Not only is this principle foundational to the university, it is necessary for academic freedom.

The Principle in UVU Policy

Utah Valley Universityʼs policies recognize the importance of this key principle. It is instructive to see how the policies observe this when it comes to the hiring of faculty.

UVU Policy 302 establishes in 4.1.3 that the University President “shall make appointments and approve positions and rates of pay at the institution” and that new positions are “reported to the Board of Trustees as information items”.

A hasty read of this policy might give the illusion that appointments to the University are part of the power of the President alone. Such a read would suggest that the University does not support the principle that professors are in the best position to determine the content of their disciplines when it comes to hiring.

However, the policy continues to limit and define the Presidentʼs responsibility to make appointments in ways that assert the power of the basic principle of Academic Freedom in hiring.

For example, Policy 302 establishes that Human Resources is “the central recruiting office for the University and shall review and monitor all materials and procedures used during the recruiting, advertising, and hiring process to ensure compliance with the applications, recruiting records, and specific procedures related to employment maintained by that office.”

This is a limit on the power of the president to hire freely. It requires that hiring be in compliance with University policies and procedures.

Another limit on the Presidentʼs power is found in UVU Policy 632. Its preamble (1.1) holds: “The selection and promotion of a faculty member is of paramount importance to Utah Valley University (UVU).” It continues to say that the University “seeks to appoint excellent faculty members.”

Later in the text the policy defines how “excellent” faculty members are to be defined and found. Department rank policies play this role ( “Each department RTP committee shall establish and periodically update department rank policy that include [sic] the following: 1) Criteria for evaluating faculty members for awarding initial appointment in rank and for subsequent promotion in rank. Criteria shall include requirements, appropriate to the department, for achievement in the areas of teaching, scholarship, and service.”

Competencies of President versus Faculty

This is significant. UVUʼs policy does not envision the President or members of his administration as having the competency to define what constitutes “excellent faculty members”. Instead that competency lies in department policy and in the actions of search committees composed of faculty from the desired discipline.

This is further emphasized in Policy 635: “faculty members have designated responsibilities concerning the following decisions regarding faculty: academic appointments” (4.6.2). It continues, ”Scholars in a particular field or activity have the chief competence for judging the academic work of their peers”.

While it does recognize that these responsibilities are performed pursuant to relevant University Policies, which we have discussed above, it continues “recommendations in these matters shall be by faculty participation through established procedures and authorized by appropriate academic officers and the President, with final action by the Board of Trustees”.

Above, we have noted a wording that contradicts this in that Policy 302 gives the President the power to “make appointments” and that such become “Information Matters” for the Board of Trustees, despite the language here that gives them final action.

In any case that contradiction is not relevant for the moment, although UVU should harmonize the policies. Instead the question is what is the role of the President and his staff (including the Academic Vice Presidentʼs office) in the process of hiring.

The President “makes appointments” but does so pursuant to policy, which established that HR sets the process and department search committees, which include scholars of the requisite discipline, make the decision, unless we take “authorization” to mean more than simply set in motion the process under their authority.

In any case the power of the Presidential suite is strongly limited by UVU policy so that the basic principle enunciated above remains essential, i.e. that faculty members are the ones most competent for deciding issues concerning their discipline.

This issue is further supported by section 4.6.1 of Policy 635: “Faculty members have primary responsibilities for curriculum, subject matter and methods of university, [sic] research, creative works and performance, and faculty status.” The word status here includes not only rank, once appointed as faculty, but the initial appointment; both are part of the scope of this policy.

Limits to Primary Responsibility of Faculty

The policy does discuss what are legitimate limits to that “primary responsibility” when it lists reasons based on which the President or Board or Board of Trustees may decide to “not support” a faculty recommendation of appointment. These are: “budgets, personnel limitations, time constraints, and the policies of other groups, bodies, and agencies having jurisdiction over the University”.

Although the policy states that these “may include” the above “but are not limited to”, nonetheless it is clear the intent of the policy is for academic questions to rest with faculty.

As a result, the evaluation by the AVP and the President of proposed hires should be based on two issues, and only those two issues. 1) Did the process of arriving at that decision follow relevant UVU policies such that members of the appropriate discipline were the ones who held the primary role for determining relative excellence of potential candidates according to their discipline, and 2) does the hire fit budgetary, personnel limitations, time constraints, and legal obligations of the University.

To make a decision based on other reasons runs a strong risk of violating the academic freedom of faculty members of a discipline to exercise the primary responsibility granted them in UVU policy, which also has strong guarantees of academic freedom.

Reasons for Non-Support Must be Explicit

Policy 635 requires that reasons for non-support from the President (and his staff) or the Board of Trustees be communicated to those who make the decision of recommending someone for appointment. That this communication be clear and detailed is important, since it is a necessary control on the actions of the administration in order to guarantee that issues of academic quality remain the purview of faculty and limit the possibility of their usurpation by other instances of power in the University.

The lack of specifics and clarity in such a letter, therefore, should also be considered a violation of UVU policy and a violation of academic freedom.

The Issue of Different Departments and Different Decisions

Since the specific case under question concerns a faculty member recommended for hire by a different department at UVU than the one that had earlier denied him tenure at UVU let us consider this issue specifically. Our concern is how this should be interpreted within both UVU policies and the AAUPʼs concern for academic freedom.

One might raise a concern of discipline: if the members of a discipline are those best situated to determine a faculty personʼs value would that not be confused by one department denying tenure and another department then hiring the person.

The issue is complex since departments and disciplines are not the same. Many, if not most departments, at UVU are multidisciplinary. As a result, a faculty memberʼs discipline may stretch across two or more departments. This is recognized in UVUʼs policy 637 on tenure. In 4.1.4 it notes that though “a faculty memberʼs tenure award is tied to one specific academic department [, w]hen a faculty member transfers to another department during the probationary period or after tenure, the approved procedures of the new department determine the transfer candidateʼs tenure status.”

This policy is critical. It recognizes that different departments may have different criteria and, that what disqualifies one for tenure in one department may not do so in another.

This difference between departments is envisioned in academic freedom. Faculty in their departments must be the primary decision makers of the quality of members of their discipline even if those decisions contradict those of faculty in another department. ! In other words, the issue of different departments making contradictory decisions on the value of a faculty member is not relevant to our consideration here, other than to recognize a need to support diversity as part of academic freedom.

Does Denial of Tenure Necessarily Mean No Possibility of Employment

There is, though, another issue that is germane. Does denial of tenure, with its requisite denial of employment necessarily require that there be no possibility of employment in another department?

Several points are interesting here. First, a denial of tenure does not require immediate termination. It allows for continued employment, “a one-year, terminal appointment for the next academic year”.

Appointments are normally to a department. Faculty members have the right under UVU practices and policy to seek to gain an appointment in another department. As a result, the question of “terminal”, such that no further appointment be considered, depends on whether the issue of terminal refers to department appointments or to the appointment of a position with the university. If the latter one could make a strong argument against another department hiring the faculty member. However, given that the nature of tenure decisions and appointments lies within departments, primarily, it could also be argued “terminal” refers to that departmental appointment, and not to the university.

For determining this one must look to the history of practice at UVU to grasp whether the issue of “terminal” refers exclusively to the University or to the department. Initial indications suggest UVU does not have a consistent history of insisting that the appointment is to the University. Thus terminal does not mean no further university appointment. Rather, terminal is related to the department, in which case further employment in another department at the University is possible.

Academic freedom concerns here lie with an expectation of established and properly applied policies as the 1940 AAUP Statement on Academic Freedom argues. This includes the recognition that different departments may make different determinations on a given academic record.


The principle that professors are the ones most able to determine quality in their discipline requires that the AVP respect their decision in hiring, except for very specific issues that remain the competency of the presidential suite. Not only is this a matter of UVU policy, it is a matter of Academic Freedom.

UVUʼs policy does envision grounds on which the President or his representatives (the AVP in this case) may decide to not support a candidate for hire recommended by a department, although those are limited in such a way that they keep central the role of faculty evaluations of their discipline. To guarantee this, UVU requires non-support be accompanied by a “communication” that expresses the reasons for such. This communication is the primary way in which academic freedom can be evaluated in balance with the competency of the administration. As a result, it must be detailed and clear.

Since UVUʼs AAUP finds no specific policy ground for denying employment to a departmentʼs chosen candidate based on his or her having been denied tenure in another department, and indeed shows academic grounds for why such must be conceivable, the letter denying support from the administration is all the more important. ! In the specific case under consideration, the email written by UVUʼs academic Vice President is neither detailed enough nor clear enough to enable evaluating whether the AVP has clearly followed UVUʼs policy of honoring faculty competence, our basic principle. As a result, it suggests a potential violation of academic freedom and requires the AAUP to seek action from the UVU Faculty Senate, unless adequate grounds that are specific and detailed as required under policy are laid out by UVUʼs AVP.

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