West Virginia University faculty rejects tying tenure to tenure

West Virginia University faculty rejected a proposal that would have “fairness” advanced professors pursue diversity while making it easier to fire tenured colleagues whose work is considered substandard.

Professors voted 494-221 against revising the school’s equity-focused faculty appointment, evaluation, promotion and tenure guidelines, Faculty Senate Chairman W. Scott Wayne told colleagues in an email.

An associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering wrote Thursday night that he would meet with the provost’s office to “determine next steps.”

“The provost has expressed a desire to continue working with faculty to move forward with revising procedures,” Mr. Wayne told The Washington Times. “I believe the provost’s team really wants to reach an agreement with faculty on a set of updated procedures.”

Morgantown State Research University professors approved two minor changes to the document during a special assembly Wednesday afternoon before voting electronically.

“I’m honestly surprised by the margin, given that the Senate did everything they could to promote this,” said R. Scott Critchlow, assistant professor of political science at WVU and a member of the Faculty Senate.

Mr. Critchlow said the final version of the proposal “concerned a lot of different faculty,” even though administrators have changed it several times.

Resistance from tenured professors forced the Senate to postpone a vote on the document on December 5 and again on Monday.

The proposed changes would add “contributions to recruiting, advising, retaining, and graduating students from historically underrepresented groups” to hiring and promotion criteria.

A new introduction to the document calls it a “moral imperative” for schools to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in tenure decisions.

The proposal would also allow administrators to mark tenured professors as “unsatisfactory” during annual performance reviews and fire them if they fail to follow improvement plans.

University officials insist that the promotion of diversity-based hiring and the dismissal of full-time faculty are not linked in the document.

The committee revised the document several times, removing passages that drew fierce pushback from tenured faculty during feedback sessions and from academic freedom advocates outside the school.

The biggest compromises included removing new requirements that would have tied tenure decisions to the school’s code of conduct and a post-tenure review after five years.

The school also tried to add an “opt-out option” that would have allowed teachers to seek raises under the old tenure system until the 2027-28 school year.

According to Mr. Critchlow, the proposal would still accelerate the layoff of tenured professors based on existing annual performance reviews.

But many of his colleagues lost confidence in the revision process after reading the first draft in November, he added.

“Although the code of conduct and its restrictions on faculty speaking have been lifted, it has probably made faculty distrustful of the process and the people who put it forward,” Mr Critchlow said.

WVU evaluates professors for tenure-track positions based on their teaching, research, and service performance.

In the US, tenure has traditionally provided professors with immunity from censure or political attack. But the defense has come under increasing pressure in recent years from several campuses that have sought to ease the shedding of tenured professors.

A faculty committee representing all departments began meeting weekly in February 2021 to recommend updates to the position document, according to WVU Director of News Communications Shawna Johnson.

“Next steps will be evaluated in the coming weeks,” Ms. Johnson said in an email Thursday evening.

The proposal would count “learning activities that support inclusivity and diversity in the classroom, as well as extracurricular activities outside the classroom” into tenure.

“WVU also strives to achieve national and international impact and is committed to equal opportunity, affirmative action, social justice, and the elimination of discrimination and harassment,” the revised document said.

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