March 11, 2010

Senate debates revised policy for faculty eliminations

by Erin Rosacker

Prolonged debate and continued feedback prompted the governance council to withdraw the documents it introduced at last month's Faculty Senate meeting that address the elimination of academic programs and faculty positions. A new set of proposed changes (pdf) to section 3.4 of the Faculty Handbook were introduced at the March 9 senate meeting.

"The document was revised by the governance council with the advice it got from the Faculty Senate at its February meeting," said senate president Arnold van der Valk. "Basically, that advice was to take those parts from the original memorandum of understanding that seem relevant and important, and incorporate them into section 3.4 so they would be there permanently."

The new version expands the current policy, and includes specific language for eliminating different faculty designations, such as term and continuous appointments. Notification requirements for nonrenewed lecturer, senior lecturer, clinician and senior clinician appointments also were added.

Tenured faculty are given just one sentence in the current policy. The new language outlines three causes for termination of tenured faculty, including:

  • Adequate cause
  • Elimination of academic programs
  • Financial exigency

Adequate cause already is covered by handbook policy, but program eliminations and financial exigency details are new. Procedures and definitions were added to clarify the terms.

Program eliminations

In the proposed changes, academic programs are defined as undergraduate or graduate majors that offer degrees. Elimination of academic programs must be "based primarily on academic or educational reasons" and must be approved by the senate, president and state Board of Regents. A peer committee would review the program's faculty to identify their level of "association" by measuring their responsibilities -- for example, faculty who perform the majority of their duties within the eliminated program, or faculty who have duties in more than one program.

If a program elimination is approved, tenured faculty facing termination would be offered:

  • University's good-faith effort to find an appropriate position in another program
  • University support for retraining if relocated to another program
  • A one-year terminal appointment, or an agreed-upon severance package
  • Right of first refusal for equivalent positions created in the next three years

Financial exigency

Financial exigency -- different from the current policy's undefined "extraordinary financial crisis" -- must be "demonstrable and bona fide and declared by the Iowa Board of Regents." Financial exigency also is the term used by the American Association of University Professors, the regents, the University of Iowa and many other universities.

"Financial exigency is understood to be a much higher bar than extraordinary financial crisis," van der Valk said.


Faculty can appeal a position elimination notice using established handbook procedures, but not by calling into question the reasons behind the program's elimination. The proposed policy changes give faculty two grounds for appeal:

  • Faculty's association with the eliminated program
  • University's lack of good-faith effort to place faculty in another program

"This [document] does a very good job of making sure that faculty themselves at different levels within the university and the Faculty Senate have a major say in what happens, in terms of the future of academic programs and the faculty associated with them," van der Valk said.

Amendments to the proposed policy changes could be introduced from the floor during continued discussion at the senate's April 6 meeting, when a vote is expected. Only three meeting dates remain on the calendar before the senate closes out this academic year.

In other business

  • Senators will consider a new engineering sales minor proposed by the College of Engineering.
  • The Faculty Senate's spring conference,"Refocusing the Academy in Light of the Current Budget Constraints," is scheduled for April 30 (10:30 a.m.-1 p.m., MU Great Hall). Tom Sullivan, senior vice president and provost at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, will headline the event. Executive vice president and provost Elizabeth Hoffman and distinguished professor John Schuh, educational leadership and policy studies, also are slated to speak.