The University of Tennessee System has retracted the term “de-tenure” from the press release describing President DiPietro’s plan for cost cutting and revenue enhancement. The amended press release now begins with the following:
NOTE: A correction has been made to this press release regarding the review of the University’s tenure and post-tenure review process by deleting the inadvertent and incorrect reference to “de-tenure” under the sixth bullet of the president’s action plan noted below.
The new language in the sixth bullet point is:
Tenure and post-tenure review process: The UT System Administration, with involvement by the Faculty Council, will conduct a comprehensive review of the University’s established tenure and post-tenure review process.
While I think this retraction is a small victory, it strains credulity that a press release describing the plan presented to, and approved by the Board of Trustees would include such a toxic and alarming term as “de-tenure” by mistake. As a typo. I believe that the individuals who wrote, read, and approved the original language for release were transcribing the intent of the proposal to review P&T procedures at UT.
The System has had a procedure for post-tenure review, and even removal, since 2003. Cumulative Performance Review (CPR) is currently triggered after two consecutive years in the preceding five of an overall rating of 1 on a scale of 1-5 in the Annual Review process. Or, CPR can be triggered with three years in the preceding five of a combination rating of 1s or 2s. This is followed by a process of review by a specially-appointed committee of a faculty member’s performance.
Chancellor Cheek and DiPietro describe this process as ponderous or confusing or some such, and say that it is in need of change. And, this is brought up in the context of a plan for cost cutting. I see de-tenuring and firing-with-tenure as a distinction without a difference.
The larger context for the connection between the budget and seeking a path to dismissing tenured professors is Tennessee’s turn towards “Outcome Based Budgeting” which ties remittances to the University by the state to performance measures. This kind of fiscal discipline really has no place in public universities, who exist as a service to the citizens of the state. I can say with full confidence that the University of Tennessee Knoxville is more productive than it’s ever been by all kinds of rational measures. Our faculty are much more productive in research than in generations past. We graduate more students as a university, and have bigger incoming classes than ever before. We do so with demonstrably fewer resources. In fact, the College of Arts and Sciences would need close to 40 lines to get us back to the same level of FTE positions as we had in the mid-1990s. Additionally, quality education is an inherently inefficient process by the measures of capital. We give our most advanced and valued students (grad students) courses in a format that is most efficient at teaching them the values, methods, and content of historical practice. We do that in small seminars, not because they measure well on institutional efficiency, but because the seminar room in the most efficient means of teaching deep thinking, research, analysis, and the like.
This talk of productivity shows that the failed business model under operation here is the model of treating university education like a business. Neither Cheek nor DiPietro agree.