Update: UT changes the press release I quote below to remove the word de-tenure.
President Joe DiPietro and the UT Board of Trustees voted yesterday to make the tenure process, tenured compensation, and de-tenuring a key element of its plan to cut costs and expand revenues in the wake of reduced state support for higher education.
The Board of Trustees held its winter meeting on February 25-26 in Memphis. In recent meetings, the System President DiPietro has been talking up plans to deal with the University’s “failed business model.” This model, according to DiPietro, is based on replacing state dollars with tuition dollars. I’ll start off here by saying that that is not a “business model,” but rather a response to a “political problem.” The governor and state legislature, over the course of the last 10 years, have failed to fully fund the state’s own formula that determines its contributions to the university system.
At the June meeting, DiPietro forecast a $155M shortfall over the next ten years due to falling state contributions to the system. That forecast shortfall at the winter meeting has grown to $377M, a convenience in the context of the President’s presentation of a plan to cut costs and increase revenues. For most of the last year, I believed that DiPietro was playing a shame game with the legislature and governor (whose family name adorns myriad buildings and programs at UTK), prodding them to fully fund the state’s own formula.
The plan DiPietro presented, and that the Board approved, centers on six points to address tuition shortfalls, forecasted salary gaps, and decaying infrastructure in the system:
- Program realignment and consolidation: campuses will address low-performing programs to fund program reinvestment and perform a feasibility analysis and develop a plan for program consolidations to save costs.
- Allocation and reallocation plans: set aside 3 percent of base year’s total unrestricted E&G expenditures to address strategic initiatives, address deferred maintenance and identify cost savings from voluntary retirement and other workforce development options.
- Unfunded mandates for tuition waivers and discounts: the UT System Administration will study these discounts, estimated to be $7.4 million annually System-wide.
- Tuition structure review: Options include expanding differential tuition, increase enrollment of out-of-state students and the 15-4 tuition plan.
- Non-formula fee structure: Non-formula units (Health Science Center, Institute for Public Service and Institute of Agriculture) will review whether outreach efforts are capturing actual cost of delivery and determine whether fees should be charged.
- Tenure and post-tenure review process: To be conducted by UT System Administration and with involvement by the Faculty Council, to look at awarding of tenure, post-tenure compensation and enacting of a de-tenure process.
The first five points read like standard responses to fiscal cuts– realignment and consolidation of programs (read, cutting departments?), fee structures (raising student costs without raising “tuition”), moving money around, etc. The last one caught my attention.
What in the world is a “de-tenure process”, and what place does tenure, a bulwark of academic freedom and security for the risks of academic training and employment, have in a conversation on cutting costs and increasing revenues?
To understand more, I watched DiPietro’s presentation of the plan to the Board of Trustees. The President noted to the board that from now on, in response to this manufactured economic crisis, all actions by the System must either cut costs or increase revenue. Here is a transcription of DiPietro’s comments on point six, which begin at 24:01 in the linked video:
The last item on the list which will be led by the System is to take a look at tenure and post-tenure review process and it will be conducted by us at the System level. This will be a review and make recommendations on needed revisions regarding post-tenure review. I would like it to include adjustments for compensation for high performers in that post-review time frame and also to look at policy for termination based on unsatisfactory performance. I will do this in concert with the Faculty Council and a group of people. We will keep them tuned in. But the reality is the post-tenure review processes that we currently have from the standpoint of the CPR program is not very effective.
So, here we have it. In a move that I don’t know any faculty were forewarned of, DiPietro has opened the door for the Board of Trustees to undo the protections of tenure at the University of Tennessee.
I tweeted that transcription, which immediately elicited a harsh response from the academics I know over there because they see it for what it is… a blatant attack on tenure in the name of cutting costs. DiPietro responded to @historianess on twitter, who called “de-tenure process” what it plainly is, an attack on tenure, with this:
@historianess I fully believe in the concept of tenure.
2/27/15, 5:55 PM
I’ve asked him to clarify how that is, on twitter, but you know, he hasn’t answered yet:
@utpresidentjoe @historianess Could you explain, then, how a tenure and a de-tenure process has any place in a convo on cost-cutting?
2/27/15, 5:59 PM
This is in direct conflict with the Knoxville campus’s push towards being a Top 25 public university, our current campaign to improve UTK. It’s in direct conflict with many of the most cherished values of the academy and higher education. And, I’d love to provide DiPietro’s explanation for how his belief in the concept of tenure squares with having a “de-tenure process” that is not connected to disciplinary issues. If he provides one, I will post it immediately here, or provide a forum for him to do so directly. I’d really like to know, in the context of budget discussions, what the meaning of “de-tenure” actually is.