Sexennials at St. Louis University…

 

Formerly when a professor was granted tenure, it meant that this individual enjoyed “a lifetime, permanent appointment to conduct research, teach, and provide service.”  Tenure was intended to protect academic freedom, so that faculty could pursue the truth with impunity, wherever the facts led.  Tenure did so by making it extremely difficult for administrators to remove a professor, short of personal and/or professional misconduct.

 

However, if the Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA) at St. Louis University (SLU), Manoj Patankar, has his way, every tenured professor will undergo a sexennial review.  In essence, this will require SLU’s tenured professors to demonstrate anew what they had demonstrated prior to being granted tenure.

When Patankar floated the policy proposal this past summer, the critics responded immediately.  According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the critics maintained  the policy “would harm the university’s ability to hire and retain quality faculty.”

The critics’ response was to be expected and there’s some merit to it.

Why would a professor ever come to SLU to earn tenure and then have to undergo post-tenure reviews—and the potential for non-renewal—if her work doesn’t “measure up” to some future standard of judgment?  That professor could select another university, earn tenure, and once it’s earned, that’s it.  Finito.  No more reviews.

Based on this criterion alone, the “best and brightest” likely wouldn’t choose SLU.

The critics eventually prevailed.  VPAA Patankar withdrew his proposal in September.

That wasn’t enough for the critics, however.

The Faculty Council of the College of Arts and Sciences and SLU’s Faculty Senate proceeded to pass  two overwhelming no confidence votes, in effect demanding that SLU’s President, the Reverend Lawrence Biondi, SJ, fire Patankar.

Yet, despite those votes, Biondi backed his VPAA.

That was also completely unacceptable to members of SLU’s Faculty Council of the College of Arts and Sciences.  Last Thursday they cast a 35-2 vote of no confidence against President Biondi.  This was the first no confidence vote ever passed against SLU’s President.
A  faculty leader of this no-confidence effort, professor of political science, Timothy Lomperis, said:
[SLU] has now become a place of tyranny.  If we don’t take a vote today, this will be interpreted by the administration as a defeat and the momentum will be lost.

 

That sentiment smacks of radicalism, pitting the faculty against the administration rather than engaging  in authentic dialogue that’s aimed at resolving differences.

There’s a more sober assessment of Patankar’s policy proposal.

Without doubt, tenure can lull a professor into lethargy.  Once granted, the motive to perform at a high level would have to be intrinsic not extrinsic and, it may very well be that the overall quality of work declines after tenure.  Perhaps not immediately, but over the years and decades, and inevitably for many professors.

The downside of tenure, then, is that some (and perhaps many) tenured professors will sit back, relax, enjoy life, and collect a good salary and benefits as well.  Where that’s the case, students don’t receive the education they deserve and the overall quality of the faculty declines.

It could be argued that Patankar was seeking to hold tenured professors more accountable.  His policy would provide a bit of extrinsic motivation for tenured faculty who aren’t intrinsically motivated to demonstrate ongoing achievement every six years.

Patankar’s proposal raised a legitimate policy point that SLU administrators and faculty should debate and resolve.  However, the rhetoric of professors like Timothy Lomperis indicates that what they really desire is confrontation.  They want  to force administrators to knuckle under to their demands, not to engage in a robust and public debate where the merits of counter arguments are carefully weighed, assessed, and a decision is made.

If it ends up that SLU administrators backtrack and don’t engage faculty leaders in debating the issue, it is likely that the number of battles over tenure at the nation’s Catholic universities and colleges—pitting faculty against administration—will increase in a short time.

But not about the issue Patankar is attempting to resolve.

No, these battles won’t be over sexennial post-tenure evaluations to rid the faculty of non-performers.  That will be the  ”presenting issue.”  Belying the rhetoric are professors who desperately want tenure to continue insulating them from any possible intrusions on their freedom to express political, social, and moral views without rebuttal and, in particular, views at variance with Catholic teaching.

It may well be the case that these “tenured radicals” don’t want administrators implementing any policy that might silence their voices inside U.S. Catholic higher education.

 

 

To read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, click on the following link…
http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/no-confidence-voted-by-slu-faculty-unit-on-biondi/article_f0d6d525-b995-525c-968f-6e38897d5da1.html

8 Responses to Sexennials at St. Louis University…

  • LoneThinker says:

    The arrogance of too many professors in Catholic and State Universities demands that education be saved by regular evaluations of their performance and evaluations accumulating in a five year, not six year evaluation. Heretics and extremist political views that are forced on students who have little choice to object can be toned down and fired if done fairly. Same for the ;POTUS – one five year term and cut out the obscene amount of cash needed to keep the position and “free” publicity for the second term with expensive flights at public expense disguised as public service.

  • Proteios1 says:

    A a tenured professor/research scientist I can say a few things on the subject.
    1. The tenure process, at least in the sciences will not be dissolved without a major decrease in research quality. Why? Because if I didn’t have tenure, I wouldn’t work for this pay scale. My industrial counterparts get twice or more what I get. The students would be taught by Chinese, and immigrants who are causing wage suppression in my field as we speak. Make no doubt. Foreigners and lecturers (contract teachers, not tenurable) …students HATE. They pay good money to be taught by a leading expert like me, to get in my research lab, etc. they complain a great deal about lecturers and foreigners they have learn chemistry from and can’t understand what they are saying.
    2. We are losing so much in terms of pay, healthcare and retirement benefits, that although I wouldn’t shriek tyranny, I understand the easy ride that our entire country had due to borrowing money for 60 years is over and we are all going to share the pain. This includes people on soc security, pensions, healthcare benefits, everything. In fact, with all this, I’m surprised theya rent trumpeting tenure as a lure. Why do I say that?
    3. Americans are avoiding academics because the lack of pay and benefits. We almost exclusively hire Asians. Our searches are 95/5 Asians to everyone else in the western world including the USA. This notion of cushy jobs. Yep. It was the case. I have many examples. They are retiring now and in the next 5 years. It a the Sputnik response when America invested in science tomcombat getting beaten into space. Well. They are all,retiring. Wo is replacing them. Not Americans. Asians. Why? Read what I said above about low pay and bearing so much of the costs of the remaining benefits.

    Conclusion. Lay off. You clearly are using old data that is not applicable to my generation and certainly not the future. Looking to the past wont solve our problems unless your logic is to borrow more money to pay down the debt. Most get out of eduction…at all levels…because of the lack of pay and lack of respect. I think the ones who will suffer are the students. And regarding my cushy job tht I don’t have to do anything…I wish!
    Most cost increases at universities are due to administrations, like ours, doubling their costs every five to six years. I’d look that up. It’s happening a lot and the main reason behind tuition increases. New buildings we don’t need and admin.

  • Missouri resident says:

    The piece draws wide-reaching conclusions based on one short newspaper article. It misses the many and varied points of contention between the SLU faculty and administration; as is known widely in St. Louis city, only one of these is the six-year review aspect of the withdrawn plan. It is also uncharitable to insinuate that one professor is an ideological “radical” based on a two-sentence newspaper quote. That professor has written eloquently and at length elsewhere about these same issues, and his views could be easily ascertained and respectfully addressed, rather than caricatured and dismissed in this drive-by fashion. Indeed, the former mode of engagement would better model the blog author’s desire for a mode of debate in which “the merits of counter arguments are carefully weighed [and] assessed.”

    A further minor note: although pay has not been reported to be one of the issues motivating the no-confidence votes, the author’s supposition that tenured professors will “relax, enjoy life, and collect a good salary and benefits” ignores that the salaries are in fact not good — at the assistant and associate level, the SLU median salary is around the 24th percentile for U.S. doctoral-level institutions. For SLU to be (barely) in the top 100 university rankings, with its current salaries, suggests that its professors are in fact over-performing.

    Finally, the blogger above raises the notion that professors “desperately” want to maintain tenure so they can contradict Catholic teachings. It seems this writer’s problem, then, is not in fact with SLU’s current tenure policy, but rather with its academic freedom policy, which guarantees to every instructor — whether tenured or not — the right to “to express and explain their own beliefs, even though these may disagree with Catholic doctrine,” and to engage in “the scholarly and relevant criticism of such things as Catholic organizations, Catholic leaders, Catholic activities, and particular theological opinions and traditions,” so long as the instructor does not “deride or attack” the Catholic faith in the classroom (the latter terms “to be construed strictly”). If the blogger’s concern is over the academic freedom policies of SLU, then he or she ought to recommend eliminating those protections, rather than promoting the elimination or downsizing of tenure as a backdoor way of accomplishing this. The cliched “tenured radicals” argument above, it seems, is simply obscuring a larger issue, which is the author’s distaste for robust academic freedom policies.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    In the UK, academic tenure was abolished by the Education Reform Act 1988.

    The Commissioners appointed under the act can vary terms of employment “to enable qualifying institutions to provide education, promote learning and engage in research efficiently and economically.”

    They also have power to vary trust deeds governing endowed posts.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Missouri resident complained about lower than median salaries at SLU. Let me retort as a SLU faculty member who looked at other academic positions–the benefits at SLU are extremely generous. SLU double matches retirement plans, up to 10%. That means if you contribute 5% to your retirement plan, they contribute 10%, which gives you a raise. Your children also get free tuition to a large choice of Jesuit schools. This is worth well over $100,000 per child. Quit complaining. I am embarrassed about the arrogant, divisive behavior of the Faculty Senate. They are acting like 3 year olds who did not get their way and now are stomping their feet in protest.

    Some simple respect for your employer should not be that much to ask for.

  • LoneThinker says:

    I served on an advisory board for health care in the 70s, was a post-graduate student, and on the faculty of a University. I was surprised that medical doctors and Ph doctors could be as petty and self-centered and arrogant as they could. As they told us as kids “one can take the man out of (podunk) but not the (podunk) out of the man. Same for women, Equal Opportunity Pettiness.

  • Proteios1 says:

    Reading this article and the comments a few thoughts cant escape my mind. One, we seem to slander ALL faculty for the behavior of a few. This may be our culture, I don’t know, but by slandering all professors, we miss opportunities for communication and understanding. I happen to be one of about half (my estimate) who understand the problem universities are in financially and are happy to have jobs we love. Does that mean we ignore excesses by our administration who are clearly living in fantasy land as if the gravy train will never end. Some admins are fiscally more conservative and these voices are shifting those burdens onto faculty disproportionately. Love it or leave it…that’s the fact. In parallel to largess by administration, some faculty have enjoyed many years with great benefits. Who would want to give tht up? Answer…no one. So lets clearly understand all sides iit helps negate poorly written and biased articles designed to inflame and not inform. Cuts are coming all across the board. It is my opinion, that unlike Wall Street bankers and the wealthy, in the public sector at least we should all experience the pain together rather than faculty and staff bearing the burden while our admin doubles in size and gives themselves raises (yes, Virginia, that’s why we get mad).

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