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A Publication of the Harvard Institutes for Higher Education
Casebook I: Faculty Employment Policies presents six cases that were developed by the Project on Faculty Appointments at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and designed to be used in a variety of instructional settings in order to explore and analyze efforts to bring about institutional change. Each case study highlights a particular challenge regarding faculty employment and illustrates these challenges using situations from actual institutions of higher education. The cases provide a wealth of background information and are filled with real-life details. In addition, the cases are comprehensive in scope and reflect the complexity of administrative decision making as experienced by academic leaders.
Modifying Faculty Evaluation and Contracts
William T. Mallon
On March 11, 1996, Carol Roberts, academic dean and interim vice president at Blessed Trinity College, gathered up several reports from her desk and made her way to a meeting with the college's Contracts and Promotion Committee. As she walked out of her office and down the hall, she reflected, "It seems that one way this institution solves problems is to not finish things. Such an approach asks, 'if no one at the gates is clamoring for a resolution, why solve the problem?'" She quickly reviewed the situation at Blessed Trinity. The board of trustees put a moratorium on tenure in 1980. After the moratorium, new faculty were hired with the understanding that they would have multiyear contracts. Despite repeated attempts to put a faculty evaluation system and multiyear contracts into place, however, neither policy had been implemented. Instead, all faculty hired from 1980 to 1996 had been on a series of one-year contracts.
When she was named academic dean in August 1995, Roberts' charge was to make the multiyear contracts and faculty evaluation system work. She entered the March 1996 Contracts and Promotion Committee meeting with an agenda to makeprogress on this issue that had stymied Blessed Trinity for over a decade.
Blessed Trinity College
Blessed Trinity College, located in a large metropolitan area, was founded in the 1950s by the Congregation of the Sisters of the Blessed Trinity (CSBT). At that time, the area was experiencing rapid population growth that coincided with increasing demand for higher education for young Catholic women. To fill a niche in that expanding market, the Sisters obtained a charter for a four-year liberal arts college for women. The institution began admitting men in 1972.
In fall 1993, Blessed Trinity expanded to a second campus in a suburban area not too far from the original campus. Through a business-education partnership with a major corporation, Blessed Trinity opened a new facility on the suburban campus in January 1995. As of fall 1996, Blessed Trinity provided liberal arts and professional undergraduate programs and graduate education programs for nearly 3,000 full- and part-time students.
Governance and Policy-Making Traditions
From its beginnings, Blessed Trinity College experienced rapid growth in enrollment, curricular offerings, and academic and administrative staff. One internal document described the college's growth during the first fifteen years as "steady, secure, and even predictable." Despite its growth, Blessed Trinity operated with little administrative infrastructure or formal policy. Long-time faculty report that the college did not have many formal rules or regulations. No faculty search committees existed; rather, the college president interviewed and appointed new faculty members.
In its first several decades, neither the faculty nor the administration of Blessed Trinity focused much attention on promotion and tenure. "In those days," said a senior faculty member, "nobody bothered with a formal process of tenure, though on paper you could have it." Furthermore, he reported, administrators discouraged faculty from applying for tenure. "There was no campus ethos to get it."
Faculty who did apply for promotion and tenure encountered a much simpler course than is typically associated with the tenure process. Describing promotion procedures, the college's 1981 accreditation self-study implied that faculty needed to provide little more than a signed application: "Promotion is not automatic. To initiate this process each fall, four copies of the Application for Faculty Promotion are completed by the eligible candidate. The original copy is retained by the candidate who gives the other three to the Department Chairman. The latter signs the forms, retains one copy, and sends his evaluation and the two remaining copies to the Academic Dean. In turn the Academic Dean recommends the candidate to the President or states his reasons for contrary action. Following review by the Faculty-Administration Committee, the President submits final recommendations to the Board of Trustees."
"There was little evidence needed in one's dossier other than a resume and student evaluations," said John Stephenson, a tenured physics professor who came to Blessed Trinity in 1979. "The real interest was in teaching evaluations and the recommendation from the department chair. Compared to other colleges with which I was familiar, I thought this tenure and promotion process was a piece of cake."
Nor did faculty play a large role in campus governance. A faculty senate established in 1970 included all full-time faculty members. Attendance at faculty senate meetings was mandatory, but enthusiasm for participation was low. One administrator commented, "Faculty back then didn't think too much about the organization and governance of higher education." But the lack of faculty involvement in governance was not solely attributable to lack of interest. Administrators opposed faculty involvement in institutional decision making. The 1981 Accreditation Self-Study, for example, reported that: "[The college must maintain a] balance between the demands of fiscal responsibility, accountability and creative leadership on the one hand and accommodating the expectations of participatory governance on the other. A totally decentralized decision-making structure is not currently viewed as the most effective means of dealing with these new realities."
Many faculty members accepted the administration's powerful role in governing the institution. An economics professor explained, "It was much easier in those days to get decisions made. We would go to the president with our requests and she would say yes or no. That was it."
The Moratorium on Tenure
From 1959 to 1966, tenure at Blessed Trinity was tied to rank; faculty members automatically received tenure after four years as full professors. Then, from the late 1960s to 1980, tenure followed a probationary period of seven years of service without regard to rank. A quota system prevented more than two-thirds of the full-time faculty from receiving tenure. College policy stipulated that, if a tenure opening was not available, tenure-eligible faculty would be offered one-year contracts in the interim.
The board of trustees began to pose questions about the college's faculty appointment policies in the late 1970s. Its concerns centered around three issues: changes in faculty demographics, changing demographics in the religious order, and tenure's effects on the financial well-being of the college.
Changes in Faculty Demographics
Through the 1970s and 1980s, Blessed Trinity experienced constant enrollment growth (see Table 1.1), particularly in professional degree programs such as nursing and education.
In the 1980s, 75 percent of the college's students and faculty were in the nursing division, and eleven full-time faculty members were added to that department between 1978 and 1983. Many liberal arts departments-biology, chemistry, English, and philosophy-added full-time faculty to provide service courses to nursing students. Business administration also experienced growth: between 1978 and 1983, it added three full-time faculty to its ranks.
Shortly after being named president of Blessed Trinity in 1979, Sr. Mary Johnston realized that many departments had almost reached their tenure quota. This was particularly true of the nursing division. "Because of the strong growth in many departments, we were concerned that a large number of tenure-track faculty would reach the 'up-or-out' decision point and be faced with a quota," Sr. Mary said. "If the department was tenured-in, many instructors would be forced to leave." An internal college document described the problem and advocated eliminating tenure: "Some faculty may be adversely affected if a tenure system is continued at Blessed Trinity College. Within the traditional tenure system, if no tenure slot exists at the college or in a certain division, a faculty member is forced to leave the institution after a probationary period if a quota system exists. This action occurs whether the faculty member is qualified or not. As a result, the tenure decision, if the tenure quota is reached, is based solely on numbers, not on merit."
Changing Demographics in the Religious Order
At one time, Blessed Trinity relied heavily on the religious sisters for faculty positions. In the early years of the college, the percentages of lay and religious faculty were equal. By 1980, however, members of the order filled only thirteen of the forty full-time faculty positions, a trend that continued throughout the decade (see Table 1.2).
The 1981 accreditation team attributed the decline, in part, to changing demographics within the Congregation of Sisters of the Blessed Trinity: "As in the instance of other religious communities, few younger members are entering the order. The median CSBT age-order-wide-is sixty-five. This has implications for the future faculty characteristics and also for long-term financial viability."
The financial benefit that the religious order provided to the college was considerable. The sisters' contributed services represented $375,000 in annual revenue in 1980, 14 percent of the college's revenue from all sources. Administrators and the board recognized the importance of replacing retiring sisters with other members of the religious order, but they could not keep pace with the growing need for faculty.
Moreover, religious faculty did not have tenure, affording the administration a great deal of flexibility. "Tenure was an assured position to lay faculty, but not to religious faculty," explained Professor Stephenson. "Administrators could reassign or remove religious faculty, but they lost that flexibility with lay faculty."
Tenure's Effects on the Financial Well-Being of the College
The impact of tenure on the college's financial condition also concerned the president and the board. "Everything comes back to the dollar," Sr. Mary said. She explained the institution's conundrum as follows:
A tenure system can leave an institution with a large number of high-salaried faculty in departments with low student enrollment. This situation leads to an economic burden on the institution. Additionally, predictions place the modal age of faculty at between fifty-six and sixty-five by the year 2000, with more faculty over sixty-six than under thirty-five. New laws concerning [an end to mandatory] retirement would compound this crisis.
An institution which is heavily tenured also has minimal flexibility.... Tenure, in fact, becomes a burden when an institution attempts to adjust its programs and curriculum to meet the educational policies of current and future students. The institution then becomes unable to reallocate resources to best achieve its mission and goals.
Because of these concerns-rapid faculty growth under the constraints of a quota system, fewer religious faculty, and fiscal considerations-the executive committee of the board of trustees suspended the tenure policy at Blessed Trinity College in 1980, grandfathering in faculty members with tenure or on a tenure-track.
Faculty had mixed reactions to the board's suspension of tenure. Several faculty said the announcement came out of the blue because they were not involved in the decision-making process. There was no discussion among faculty about the problem, and "we were given no alternatives," asserted Professor of History William Morrison. "We were under duress to comply, so we voted for something that we didn't want to vote for."
Other faculty reported less concern about the decision. "I don't think faculty felt it was that important when the college did away with tenure," said Professor Stephenson. "There wasn't a strong faculty culture that supported an investment in academic tenure." Another long-time member of the faculty elaborated on the faculty culture: "Colleague relationships among faculty had always been good. There was little concern about tenure because we had a sense of job security. There was a willingness to trade off tenure for another system. Plus, the lack of tenure helps with that environment of collegiality because faculty are not competitive with one another. Faculty colleagues are not willing to sit in judgment of one another. We know each other too well."
Faculty report that there were hostile comments about the decision in private but not in public. "There was remarkable silence from the faculty," said Professor Stephenson. "Many faculty members were accepting of the college's power structure. They didn't demand or expect authority or decision-making power." Another faculty member corroborated this description: "The faculty was docile, waiting for the administration to set the tone. There was a climate of trembling passivity."
The relationship between administration and faculty became more complicated when Sr. Mary hired Richard Stone as academic dean and vice president for academic affairs in 1981. Stone had no higher education teaching experience and was therefore viewed with suspicion by the faculty. "The faculty didn't view the dean as one of their own," recalled one faculty member. "He found it difficult to get respect from department or division heads or from the faculty senate."
The Tenure and Promotion Study Group
Faculty and administrators viewed the suspension of tenure as temporary until the college could decide on a new faculty personnel policy. To that end, in November 1983, Sr. Mary informed the faculty senate of her intention to form a study group to analyze and evaluate the policies of promotion and tenure. The president appointed Richard Stone as chair of the study group which included six faculty members. Charged with reviewing all aspects of the current tenure and promotion policy and developing a new proposal for tenure and promotion, the group was to present its findings to the president for her consideration.
The study group reported periodically to the faculty senate on its progress. In February 1985, Dean Stone informed the senate that the study group "finds the two concepts [of long-term contracts and tenure] to be very similar." At that point, the study group had not come to any conclusions about recommending either the tenure system or long-term contracts.
The following spring-April 1986-the Tenure and Promotion Study Group presented its final report. It offered five recommendations to the president:
MEMO TO: Sister Mary Johnston, CSBT, Ph.D.
Excerpted from Casebook I Copyright © 1998 by President and Fellows of Harvard College. Excerpted by permission.
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1. Blessed Trinity College: Modifying FacultyEvaluation andContracts (William T. Mallon).
2. Georgia State University: Tackling Salary Inequity,Post-TenureReview, and Part-Time Employment (Cheryl Sternman Rule).
3. Kansas State University: Evaluating andAddressing Chronic LowAchievement (Holly Madsen).
4. Olivet College: Aligning Faculty EmploymentPolicies with anEvolving Mission (William T. Mallon).
5. University of Central Arkansas:Transformative Leadership,PremiumContracts, and a New Identity (Cheryl Sternman Rule).
6. University of Minnesota: The Politicsof Tenure Reform (Cathy A.Trower).
Selected Bibliography on the Academic Professionand OrganizationalChange.