The proposal to change tenure policy for University of Arkansas campuses has now drawn attention from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Chronicle notes concerns already expressed that the new policy could make it easier to fire faculty and also curb academic freedom. The UA continues to say the changes are meant just to update policies to align with “best practices.”

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Some faculty analysis sees the proposal in much harsher light. A new email going around says, for example:

I realized from the redline version of the university-counsel proposal provided to UAMS (but not UALR) that the proposal explicitly restricts, in a truly dramatic fashion, your currently free speech.

University counsel added the italicized/highlighted language:

The proposed rule says: “Subject to all provisions of this and other applicable University policies, mere expressions of opinions related to the faculty member’s scholarship and assigned teaching duties, however vehemently expressed and however controversial such opinions may be, shall not constitute cause for dismissal.”

So, under current rules you can express all of you opinions. Simple. Just. Legal.

Under the university-counsel proposal, you could only express your views about scholarship and “assigned teaching duties” (whatever that means). And the expression of even those limited opinions are restricted by “all provisions of this and other applicable University policies.” What’s that mean?

So, you would have no freedom to express your opinions while performing academic service, because that’s not included. And, of course, discussion of all sorts of topics would be off limits, such as which Dean’s candidate you’ll vote for, what resources the school should expend and how, whether management is serving the best interests of students, faculty, and the citizens of Arkansas. So, say goodbye to faculty governance.

This is either an incredible infringement on your academic freedom and free-speech rights or absolutely incompetent draftsmanship. Either is tragic, and both reflect why this ham-fisted, harried proposal should be rejected (indeed, withdrawn).

Will the UA Board vote on the proposed change at its meeting Nov. 8-9? The Chronicle didn’t get a definitive answer on the question.

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ALSO: The UAMS faculty senate has expressed opposition to the proposal. An email Thursday from Leanne Leflar, president of the faculty Senate, said:

We had our full faculty UAMS Academic Senate meeting yesterday afternoon with faculty members, the Provost & Interim Chancellor, and general counsels for UA System were present. We voiced our strong opposition to the policy revisions for 405.1. The response from the UA Systems office is below (they have it dated 10-19 although we just received it this morning). This information below pertains to this new revised document (dated 10-19).

The sections regarding the definition of tenure and “cause” have not been changed despite our complete opposition to words like “unsatisfactory performance” “incompetence”, “pattern of disruptive conduct or unwillingness to work productively with colleagues” or “refusal to perform reasonable duties” (seen as very arbitrary, subjective, and could be defined differently by different administrators).

Dismissal for “cause” remains throughout the revised document. “Salaries for tenured faculty may be adjusted based on job duties & performance” remains even though not defined; If tenured faculty found “unsatisfactory” then they only are given only 1 year to remediate and “could be shortened” per discretion of ? (see page 17 last sentence).

It looks as though (see page 12 under dismissal, last sentence) the CEO can decide if a tenured faculty even get a hearing. I may have missed this earlier or misunderstood this, but this is also unacceptable, everyone should be offered a hearing.

We therefore need to come together, as faculty senates from all UA Systems schools and respond vehemently to this basically non-response of our major concerns with the initial draft.

Information compiled at UAMS on the policy change can be found here.

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