The University System of Georgia approved changes to its tenure policy Wednesday, and professors all across the state are worried that it weakens due process protections for tenured faculty.
The new policy, critics say, nullifies a fundamental principle of tenure: peer review. Now, administrators wield more power to decide the fate of tenured professors.
“The fundamental shift is from a faculty-led review to administrative review,” said Matthew Boedy, a professor at the University of North Georgia and the president of the American Association of University Professors' Georgia conference. “I’m calling this the death of tenure because tenure is a faculty led review process.”
Acting USG chancellor, Teresa MacCartney responded in a letter to Boedy's concerns, writing that “the changes aim to support career development for all faculty and ensure accountability and continued strong performance from tenured faculty members.” The new policy, she added, “provides no less due process or faculty involvement.”
Boedy says that is simply not the case.
“Before you could be fired after a faculty-led hearing that had investigation and witnesses and documents and cross examination,” he said. “That is all being wiped away in this very particular moment.”
The initial changes proposed in early September would have allowed administrators to fire tenured professors for reasons “other than for cause,” but that language was nixed after pushback.
More than 1,500 professors across the state have signed a petition in protest against the new policy, which bodes poorly not only for tenured professors, some say, but the 25 public colleges across the state that are affected by this policy.
“The national publicity that this will bring to the University System of Georgia will make it very difficult to hire faculty in the future,” said Steven Brehe, associate professor of English at UNG. “I don't understand what motivated the decision, which appears rushed to me. What events or concerns motivate this move? Why was it made without any consultation with university faculty? System faculty have to see this as a hostile move by the Regents against the faculty.”
The purpose of tenure is not only to provide greater job security to professors who have it, but also to provide a safeguard for academic freedom by ensuring that tenured professors cannot be fired without just cause. In that way, Boedy said, the new policy functions as “a piece of dynamite to higher education.”
The day before approval, AAUP President Irene Mulvey wrote in a statement, “Given the severity and scope of this potential attack on tenure and academic freedom, our executive director will authorize an investigation if the board votes to adopt these changes.”
The Board of Regents has maintained that the new policy is not at odds with faculty interests.
“Ultimately, we all have the same goal — helping USG maintain its quality and reputation as one of the best public higher education systems in the nation,” Lance Wallace, associate vice chancellor of communications for USG, wrote in a statement.