At a meeting in Monticello on Thursday, the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees approved a change in tenure policy that has been widely criticized by faculty, especially by the 294 anonymous respondents to a survey taken at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Their concerns were that the new policy weakens tenure and faculty rights and would undermine academic freedom.

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Before the vote, Benton lawyer Luther Sutter addressed the board, warning that he would sue in federal court if trustees approved the policy, according to observer Joann Coleman, who attends trustee meetings regularly. We have a call in to Sutter to tell us more, including who he is representing. Sutter asked if the change was an attempt to make UA system faculty “at-will” employees and if tenured faculty would be grandfathered in, both getting “no” answers.

Among other objections, faculty members were critical of changes within Section 405-1 of the policy creating a requirement of “collegiality” for tenure — which some interpret as a way to quell freedom of speech — and adding the ambiguous “unsatisfactory performance” as cause for dismissal.

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UA System President Don Bobbitt distributed an “explanation document” that said speech concerns would be addressed by a newly added sentence: “Nothing in this provision is intended to inhibit expression that is protected under principles of academic freedom, or state or federal law.”