[Some of what follows will require correction following Jonathan Bean's calling my attention to an SIUC policy page I hadn't checked--details in the comment stream.]
This won't quite amount to my no doubt widely anticipated second posting on tenure (to follow up on the post I did on AAUP tenure policies), but I will emphasize some good points from yesterday's op-ed in the DE on tenure, while also clarifying something I think that op-ed left unclear. Plus I'll make a newish point of my own: that the administration's actions on furloughs presage possible action on tenure.
Yesterday's op-ed, by Richard Fedder, a Carbondale attorney, squarely nails what I take to be the central point: that the imposed terms are an effort to undermine tenure. So the scenario he outlines, in which the administration decides to go after a given program (or professor), and claims financial justification for doing so, is all too possible.
Fedder also makes a very important point indeed about intentions and legality. The Chancellor has said that she has no intention of undermining tenure. But her bargaining team has, to the best of my knowledge, not budged one inch from the imposed terms that have led many on campus, myself included, to conclude that her terms, if not her intent, undermine tenure. And if you end up being that laid-off tenured professor, her attempts at reassurance won't help you pay the bills any more than tenure without a job will.
If the Chancellor meant what she said when emailing the faculty about tenure (there's a link to her email after the break), it ought to be relatively easy to design contractual language outlining the proper process to be followed in the event of a bona fide financial exigency. To the best of my knowledge, though, the administration bargaining team has shown no interest in doing so.
On the other hand some of what Fedder says about financial exigency doesn't quite ring true to me--and it is devilish details like this that have tied me up in knots and kept me from posting my own take on this issue sooner. More on that after the break. More also on how the "administrative closures" policy sets a precedent of sorts for lowering the bar on firing tenured faculty. I'll also provide links to the main documents on tenure in case you want to engage with the details yourself. It's great fun!
Financial exigency, properly defined (as a financial situation so bad it threatens the existence of the university, and cannot be resolved without terminating tenured faculty), and with a process established to ensure that faculty participate in the declaration of the exigency and that faculty have primary responsibility in determining which programs would be affected, and the procedures to determine which faculty in those programs would be terminated, is part of the AAUP procedures (and is indeed part of a FA proposal on "Reduction in Force" linked to below). Some of Fedder's language implies that this is not the case, i.e., that tenure ought to protect one against any financial crisis. It ought to protect one against most financial crises, but cannot protect one against all. But Fedder is certainly right that the current BOT policy fails to establish a rigorous procedure either for defining "financial exigency" or for the process to follow a declaration of financial exigency.
Here's one reason this matters. Last year Chancellor Cheng argued that the financial situation at SIUC demanded furlough days from all faculty and staff. SIUC already had a process in place to allow for furloughs.* It's the BOT "financial emergency" process I link to below. But the Chancellor didn't want to declare a financial emergency (something short of "financial exigency", mind you, but still scary). That would have led potential students, and perhaps potential creditors, to question SIUC's financial stability.
So what did she do? She cooked up a new policy, the "Unpaid Administrative Closures" thing, which didn't require a declaration of a financial emergency. This way she got to have her cake and eat it, too: she could furlough employees without sounding the financial emergency alarm.
Why is this problematic? Because furloughing employees is supposed to be a serious matter. And laying off employees, especially tenured employees, is supposed to be a very serious matter indeed. In a financial crisis, laying off employees effectively means terminating them. Past BOT policy, and traditional tenure protection, therefore aims to strike a balance: to protect employees against unjustified action, the administration was required to declare a financial emergency in order to take drastic measures. This declaration (either of a short term "financial necessity" justifying furloughs or a long term "financial exigency" justifying layoffs, including of tenured faculty) required some consultation with campus groups and some sort of detailed report to the BOT. In cases of firing tenured faculty, that policy didn't meet the AAUP guidelines, but it was something. Furloughing or firing people came at a cost. It was therefore not something an administration would enter into lightly.
As flexible as the BOT financial policy on "financial emergencies" is, the Chancellor decided to ignore it and invent a new policy instead. The Chancellor's "unpaid administrative closures" policy allowed her to furlough employees without much downside--without any declaration of a financial emergency. The new reduction in force terms appear to be a parallel move, to allow for firing of tenured employees without a full-scale declaration of financial exigency. It is not paranoid to fear that this may happen here: other universities have taken similar steps. And it does not require assuming that the Chancellor is a monster, only that she may believe that the only way for SIUC to have the flexibility to meet financial challenges without alarming creditors and the public is to be able to fire tenured faculty without sounding the financial red alert (financial exigency). Some administrators have clearly come to believe that gutting tenure is not too high a price to pay in order to gain this flexibility. This isn't what the Chancellor said in her email to faculty, but the crucial test will come in the contract language her team is willing to agree to, not in an email.
So our administration already changed policy to make furloughs easier. It has now imposed terms to make layoffs, including layoffs of tenured faculty, easier. Faculty can either acquiesce in this degradation of our job security and tenure, or resist it. The only practical way to resist it is to support the FA.
Here are some of the key documents to consider when evaluating the current status of tenure at SIUC.
The AAUP on Tenure
The FA proposal on financial exigency & layoff
Administration imposed terms on "reduction in force"
BOT policy on financial emergency
FA "Fact Sheet" on tenure and layoffs (An FA interpretation of where we stand under the imposed terms)
Cheng's email on tenure (buried at the end of a post of mine)
1996 Employees Handbook Financial Exigency policy (SIUC used to define this concept pretty rigorously; this policy is now superseded, I fear, by the current BOT policy--and the absence of any contract language to the contrary. This link will open a full-screen pdf document via the "scribd" website.)
NEW (2:30 on 9/8): http://policies.siuc.edu/policies/tenure.html
* The policy would have allowed for furloughs as far as the BOT was concerned, at any rate. The FA's position is that bargaining (real bargaining, not just "impact bargaining") would also be required.