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National faculty association poised to censure University System of Georgia over changes to tenure policy
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University of North Georgia students walk at the entrance of the Martha T. Nesbitt Academic Building at the Gainesville campus. - photo by Scott Rogers

The battle over academic tenure in Georgia has heated up following an investigative report published Wednesday by the American Association of University Professors that criticizes changes made by the University System of Georgia. 

The report examines the changes made to the post-tenure review policy in mid-October, which garnered widespread condemnation from university faculty all across the state. More than 1,500 faculty members signed a petition in protest prior to the policy being officially adopted. 

“Under the new policy,” the AAUP report concludes, “a system institution can dismiss a tenured professor … without having afforded that professor an adjudicative hearing before an elected faculty body in which the administration demonstrates adequate cause for dismissal.” 

By removing that faculty-led hearing, the report continues, the university system has “effectively abolished tenure in Georgia’s public colleges and universities.” 

“They're ending that peer-review hearing, and the report basically explains that they removed the post-tenure review process from underneath the dismissal for cause policy which means now you can lose your job without them going through this hearing,” said Matthew Boedy, a professor at the University of North Georgia and the president of the American Association of University Professors' Georgia conference. 

He said the next step will likely see the AAUP censure USG during its first meeting next year, probably some time in February. The association has censured many individual schools, but it has censured a university system only once since its founding in 1915. 

And while a censure from the AAUP does not force USG to take any action, it has historically carried a great deal of weight in the world of higher education, Boedy said. 

“To censure a system tells the rest of higher education that this system is doing something bad,” he said. “The University System of Georgia is highly respected in higher education, so I can only see this having negative consequences for their reputation.” 

Matthew Boedy
Matthew Boedy

USG oversees 25-tenure granting institutions and about 8,400 faculty who are either tenured or on the tenure track. 

Acting USG Chancellor Teresa MacCartney wrote in a response letter, “I wholly and strongly disagree with the report’s conclusions.” 

“Most tenured USG faculty are performing at a high level and are indeed providing high-quality educational experiences for students,” MacCartney wrote. “However, within our faculty ranks, we have a small number of faculty who are tenured and who are not fulfilling the expectations of delivering a high-quality educational experience as judged by their peers. While few in number, their negative impact on student learning must be addressed.” 

The post-tenure review process will still be “led by faculty peers,” she wrote. 

The post-tenure review policy no longer falls under Discipline and Removal of Faculty Members, she argued, because the latter “is generally used to address specific acts of misconduct by a faculty member that typically may occur at a single point in time.” 

“In contrast,” she wrote, “the post-tenure review process occurs over multiple years, during which the faculty member is actively engaged in the process.” 

However, it appears that a faculty-led hearing at the end of the post-tenure review process has not been instantiated in the new policy — that is, a hearing like the one afforded to faculty under the policy Discipline and Removal of Faculty. 

“Under the upcoming post-tenure review guidelines,” she wrote, “I expect the faculty review panel will have discretion to determine whether a similar hearing is appropriate to a particular review.” 

Boedy argues that MacCartney is redefining “tenure” and “academic due process” to justify the policy changes. 

“It redefines tenure so they can say, ‘Oh, we still have tenure,’” Boedy said. “It redefines academic due process so they can still say, ‘We have plenty of due process.’”