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Professor responds to Patankar’s charges of faculty ‘hysteria’

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Editor’s note: This email was sent to Dr. Manoj Patankar, vice president of academic affairs, on Oct. 9 by Dr. Steve Harris in response to Patankar’s comments at the Student Government Association meeting on Sept. 26. Dr. Harris submitted the email to The University News for publication.  

 

Dear Dr. Patankar,

As interim president of the SLU chapter of AAUP, I feel it is incumbent upon me to respond to some of the remarks you made at the meeting of the Student Government Association on Sept. 26, where I was in attendance.

I do not do this lightly or without some qualms about whether it is truly my place to rebut you at length.  But I believe it is my duty, in virtue of my office, to safeguard the interests of the faculty, as rooted in the ideals of the AAUP, where I perceive those interests threatened by actions and statements of the leadership of the university.

Your attribution to hysteria of the actions of the faculty—as embodied in the near-unanimous calls for No Confidence from both the A&S Faculty Council and the Faculty Senate, reflecting an overwhelming negative response by the faculty and deans to your four proposals—presents a singularly dismissive attitude towards the deeply felt concerns of the faculty.  It is no small matter to completely overhaul the basic relationship of our employment: both vitiating the crucial matter of tenure (the very foundation stone of an academic career) and imposing onerous accounting practices inherently ill-suited to what we do as instructors and researchers in our highly varied fields.

The issue of how well or how poorly the universal quantificational scheme you envisioned would fit with the actual practices of the faculty is a matter of judgment.  But the faculty have spoken with one voice on this issue, both loudly and with fine analysis; their collective judgment, so strongly expressed, of how badly it would serve the university, cannot be dismissed.  The astonishment with which the faculty greeted this baroque apparatus was palpable on campus within a few days.  It is not only the specious quantification in the evaluation and workload proposals that is profoundly disturbing, but the entire concept of subordinating the role of the department chairs in determining equable workload and evaluation of faculty efforts to a point-scheme foisted upon them from the administration, and subjugating the chairs’ determination to that of the VP (section III.G of the Faculty Manual specifies this as the chairs’ responsibility, subject only to the review of the respective deans).   This amounts to a micro-managerial assault upon the internal functioning of the university, wholly out of keeping both with the norms of the academy and the legal requirements of the Faculty Manual.

The thought that the VP for Academic Affairs could have so hugely misjudged the acceptability of these strictures within the academy, was enough to bring forth anger, fear, and frustration in all corners of the university.  It is no hysterical reaction to give voice to the natural conclusion:  There is no confidence by the faculty in such a VP for Academic Affairs.

The issue of the attack on tenure is not even a matter of judgment:  The proposal on Faculty Evaluation, section 4.4.4, stated, “One of four potential outcomes of a post-tenure review is possible … d. Receipt of a terminal contract. … The final decision will be made by the Vice President for Academic Affairs.”  This is in direct violation of the Faculty Manual, section III.I.1:

Tenure involves a contractual recognition by the University of a faculty member’s right to continuing employment. Contracts between the University and tenured faculty members are permanent in the sense that they may be terminated by the University only for situations involving medical or other extended leaves, and then only as provided for in Sec. III.H.12.b or pursuant to academic reallocation or financial exigency under Secs. III.I.11-12, or for cause, and then only on the grounds given in Sec. III.I.5.

Res-ponding with all the forcefulness the faculty are capable of, when facing violation of the fundamental nature of our employment—not to mention abrogation of contractual obligations and of the affirmative requirements of the AAUP—is, again, no hysterical reaction.

Your public statement that post-tenure review is an established practice at notable universities is disingenuous, as the punitive nature of your proposal is wholly out of keeping with anything existing at a respectable institution.  The AAUP has strong guidelines about what constitutes acceptable post-tenure review (“Post-Tenure Review: An AAUP Response”):

“Post-tenure review should not be undertaken for the purpose of dismissal. Other formal disciplinary procedures exist for that purpose. …

Some proponents of post-tenure review, motivated by a desire to facilitate the dismissal of tenured faculty, seek to substitute less protective procedures and criteria at the time of post-tenure review. But demanding procedures and standards are precisely what prevent dismissal for reasons violative of academic freedom. …

The heightened protection of the tenured faculty is not a privilege, but a responsibility earned by the demonstration of professional competence in an extended probationary period, leading to a tenured position with its “rebuttable presumption of professional excellence.”

These guidelines are adhered to by the universities you mentioned; but not by your proposals.

But what of the fact that, at the time of the votes of the A&S Faculty Council and of the Faculty Senate on No Confidence, these proposals had already been withdrawn?  The A&S Council deliberately tabled the vote until after the Sept. 14 meeting at which the proposals were to be discussed and possibly withdrawn, specifically in order to express its opinion, not on the proposals being still on the table, but on the fact of their having been issued in the first place; and such also was the motivation within the Senate.  This was not hysteria born of immediate concern, but considered judgment after the fact: judgment on the reasonableness of your continuing to hold the leadership of academic affairs at the University.

The fact that at the SGA meeting, you expressed the need for a faculty review process containing an “exit strategy” shows that this judgment was not wide of the mark:  In spite of the existence of measures within the Faculty Manual for terminating the contracts of non-producing faculty—

III.I.5.b: “Irresponsibility in discharging University obligations, incompetence in meeting the faculty responsibilities”

III.I.5.i: “Documented serious and persistent substandard performance which fails to meet contractual obligations”

—you even yet are bent upon finding a mechanism beyond our contractual relations, to remove faculty according to your determination.  (Section 4.4.4 of Faculty Evaluation on post-tenure review specifies an evaluation and appeal process designed for the usual granting or withholding of tenure, thereby supplanting the procedures and safeguards given in section III.I.6 of the Faculty Manual for processing perceived grounds for tenure termination allowed in III.I.5.)

Being the face of the AAUP on campus, it is my obligation to give voice to the united aspirations of the faculty to resist this contemplated abrogation of our rights and of the nature of our profession; and to forcefully oppose any suggestion that these aspirations and the means to assure them are without intellectual merit.

Respectfully,

Steve Harris

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