Saturday, May 12, 2007

Of tenure, post-tenure review, and the "don't trust anyone over 30" phenomenon

Jeff Harrison has asked some great questions about tenure and post-tenure review (here) and weighed in on the Ave Maria controversy here.

On the latter topic, Jeff has suggested that, before we believe anything in particular about Ave Maria's situation, we use these two rules of construction:
My impression of this is that a good default position is:
1. Do not trust faculty versions of any story pertaining to a dean.
2. Do not trust a dean to play it straight with information, particularly

Here's how I weave these two threads together:

First off, I think that tenure is still a good idea, but it must be coupled with real post-tenure review to avoid the problem of tenured faculty members who coast after they receive tenure.

The problem with post-tenure review run by the faculty is that there's a tendency to ignore bad behavior by colleagues, on a "there but for the grace of God go I" theory. So professors who don't write for years and years, teach poorly, and do little service don't get targeted for review, and (in my experience) they don't get the assistance of gentle peer pressure to improve, either.

The problem with post-tenure review run by the administration is that there's a risk that a bad dean will use PTR as an offensive weapon for people whom he wants to punish, rather than as a tool to help the school stay on track, with everyone performing her or her job duties.

If we can't leave PTR in the hands of the faculty or the dean, then what good is it to have PTR on the books? And without PTR, there's no way to guarantee that people who have earned tenure will continue to perform their duties as professors. I don't know the answer to this conundrum, but we have to find the right answer.

I recall that, at least during my time at Nebraska, the law faculty's standard for triggering PTR was that the professor had, over some period of time, failed to do that which had earned him tenure in the first place. That's really what PTR is all about, right? Tenure is such a privilege that professors should continue to perform their duties responsibly. Otherwise, a school is left with the "rights without responsibilities" situation.

I prefer to think that the global statements that Jeff made (in the block quote above) is borne of frustration. His statement reminds me of the "never trust anyone over 30" slogans of the sixties. Now that that group is well over 30, I'm guessing that some of the folks who repeated that slogan think that they may have made a mistake.

It's a sad situation if we state categorically that we can't trust deans or faculties. I guess I'm twitchy about those statements because I've been a dean, and I am a professor (and was one, even while I was serving as a dean). Individuals lie. Individuals tell the truth. Group membership really isn't a predictor for veracity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The University of California has a form of post-tenure review that avoids some of the problems you describe as to how such cases are selected. In effect, everyone is subject to such review. Every three years after tenure there is an occasion for review to determine if the professor should be advanced to the next "step" and receive a corresponding pay increase. This doesn't mean everything is lock-step. You can still be paid off-scale or have your salary raised in response to interest from another school, although the steps permit percentage increases from that base, so everyone should want to be advanced accordingly. The steps require close review of the faculty member's work by the associate dean and a university committee at least every three years (such review accompanied by the preparation of a report). Some of the steps with the more substantial percentage increases (year 6 post-tenure is the most immediate) come with not only university review but also outside letters. Of course, all of this post-tenure review doesn't threaten someone's job, but it does affect their salary and it does impose a measure of accountability to people outside the law school. In many respects, Step 6 review has more bite than post-tenure review since administrators are more willing to deny a pay raise than to fire someone. In other words, it is not uncommon for people fail to clear Step 6 and further steps, while it is probably very uncommon for people to be fired in post-tenure review.

5/12/2007 8:02 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/12/2007 11:16 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Nancy: I am not sure not trusting faculty when they discuss deans is up there with not trusting anyone over 30 in terms of its breadth. (I could never get the hang of the over 30 rule because of the impracticalities of checking IDs all the time. In any case while you are right that I am frustrated, please don't feel you have to provide an excuse for my broad statement. I meant what I said and think law schools would be happier places if others observed the rules. It is possible that you misunderstand what I mean by trust. It's not a matter of everyone always shading the truth but a matter of not knowing when they are or are not. When a colleage of mine has a story to tell about a current or past dean, I find it is risky not to double check before relying on the information. There is a propensity to be unfair and it is impossible to know when that is the case. It's trite but there really are two sides to every story. I think everyone should be similarly careful.

As for deans, I have a small sample but I have yet work to at a law school with a dean who did not control what information was made available and frame it in ways to serve particular -- often self-serving -- ends. Not always but once it happens, how do you know what to believe?

On post tenure review, I too do not think faculty will do it. I would, however, trust the deans I have known to do it (none have the courage, though). First, it's not hard. Second, to date I have not witnessed a dean "go after" a specific person arbitrarily. It may happen but I have not seen it. When I hear that is happened I try to observe the first rule.

5/13/2007 12:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks, Jeff, for your comment above! I've heard of deans who are bullies, but the ones I've known have acted with serious restraint, even after much provocation.

And I agree w/you that there are at least two sides to every story. Often, Rashomon-like, there are multiple sides.

And thanks, Anonymous, for adding the useful info about step 6 reviews in the UC system. For reasonable people, the risk of a small or no raise is sufficient. I've found, though, that the worst offenders (who are often very nice people--albeit non-performers or performers who have excuses for every delay under the sun) don't really mind the lack of a raise, as their effective hourly rate is significantly higher than that of their more-productive colleagues.

5/13/2007 4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to know how I could earn "$150,000-plus" teaching law. It took me ten years to break the $100,000 mark.

5/14/2007 10:13 AM  

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