Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Follow Rules

The Nevada System of Higher Education is governed by federal and state law; as well as by the Board of Regents Handbook, which includes the Regents’ policies and procedures for governing NSHE institutions.  There is nothing unusual about this hierarchy of rules and power; but what is odd is that in many places the Handbook empowers administrators to ignore the Regents’ governing rules on a day to day basis. Not faculty, staff, or students, just administrators.  If NSHE was a country such an arrangement would be called a banana republic; mini dictatorships hidden under a thin façade of the rule of law.  This raises all kinds of questions, but for now the biggest is: Without clear internal NSHE mandates that administrators follow rules and directives, how exactly will state officials be assured that NSHE administrators will uphold the System’s commitment to change?  If the legislature wants real change in higher education, it must begin by demanding that discretion to act independent of established policies and procedures be eliminated and tossed out like the old, broken funding formula. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

NSHE Funding Formula

Last session the Nevada legislature created an interim committee to examine the formula that funds the Nevada System of Higher Education.  The committee hired an outside consultant to investigate how other states fund higher education and to recommend an improved funding model for Nevada.  At the June 27th meeting the consultant recommended defining what the state expects from higher education and then building a funding model that rewards NSHE for meeting those expectations.  On the higher education side of the equation, the consultant stressed that NSHE must be transparent in all its expenses and must hold administrators, faculty, staff and students accountable for improving outcomes.  This sounds so simple it boggles the mind and it begs the question: Why hasn’t this been the funding model all along?  Part of the answer is that providing access was the main focus over the past two decades, and part of the answer is that complex funding models based solely on inputs and not on outcomes makes it easier to hide incompetence and malfeasance on both sides.  Moving forward, if the state adopts the SRI recommendation, it will fall to NSHE to hold the state accountable for sufficiently funding higher education and to the state to ensure that NSHE becomes transparent and accountable.  Not just NSHE faculty, but also NSHE administrators. While this may sound obvious, it won’t be as easy as it seems because old habits die hard.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Another Point Of View #5

Here's another point of view about tenure:

Despite the increasing rigor of the tenuring process, it is important to guard against your concern that “Tenure can be and has too often been used to protect incompetent employees.”  In the more research oriented colleges, deadwood rarely occurs.  But, to ensure that UNLV does have productive associate professors, who are on their way to promotion to full professor, and to ensure that full professors continue to be productive members of the community, those annual reviews need to be quite rigorous, including making use of the teeth available via those “two-times-unsatisfactory” reviews.  The central problem in ensuring rigorous annual review standards after tenure lies at the door of the beleaguered department chair, who is in the trenches, in immediate contact with those he or she must evaluate.  In recent years, UNLV has enabled chairs to be more rigorous in annual evaluations by requiring a departmental faculty review, without the chair’s participation, either by a committee of the whole or by some version of a departmental personnel committee, whose report, in writing, is forwarded to the college level along with the chair’s recommendation; in turn, the chair’s recommendation must refer to the departmental recommendation, either endorsing it or disagreeing with it.  Finally, UNLV has recently instituted a required three-year review of associate professor’s progress toward promotion, which, again, encourages growth in teaching and research.  A return to a merit system of rewards for truly excellent performance would be another effective device to encourage continuing excellence in UNLV’s tenured faculty at both the associate and full professor levels.  In sum, in an increasingly divisive political climate, both locally and nationally, tenure is still necessary to protect academic freedom, and eliminating tenure or, alternatively, encouraging a decrease in State funding, is hugely counterproductive in light of the nationally competitive market. 


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ron Knecht

For five years I’ve told you what a bad guy Ron Knecht is.
When I graded the 13 Regents I gave him the lowest 
grade of F.

If you had any doubts about my analysis of Knecht
read this http://bit.ly/MazQHr or http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2012/jul/26/nv-fired-regent-2nd-ld-writethru/
I don’t think I need to say any more.

Another Point Of View #4

Here's another point of view about tenure:
Yes, you’re correct in your essential understanding of tenure – “IF YOU  HIRE THEM, YOU HAVE GOT THEM FOR LIFE” – though it’s really only if you grant them tenure that you’ve got them for life, other than via dismissal for cause or as the result of the “de-tenuring” process.  Though rare, given UNLV’s good hiring practices, dismissal for cause does occur, often negotiated as a resignation so not widely known. Ensuring the rigor of the review of that six-year probationary record is a better solution; another is ensuring the rigor of the annual review of post-tenure performance.  Effectively enhancing that rigor depends on leadership at the President’s and Provost’s level, with the resulting “trickle down” effect on colleges and departments.  UNLV’s current standard for tenure and promotion is relatively rigorous, with the essential requirement that the faculty applicant must be adjudged as “excellent” in either research or teaching, at least “satisfactory” in the other area, and as at least “satisfactory” in service.  Individual colleges have the flexibility, though, to vary the rigor of those labeling evaluations.  The strongest, in effect, require “excellent” in at least one of those two central categories and at least “commendable” in the other.  Raising that bar still further will ensure that even fewer tenured faculty become dead wood. One encouraging sign is that academic faculty in less research-oriented colleges are being held to a higher standard than was previously the case, at the university promotion and tenure committee level; another is the discouraging of summer school teaching, especially for untenured faculty, so that faculty can devote that time to productive research or scholarship that will enable a record deserving tenure.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Another Point Of View #3

Here's another point of view about tenure:

Rather than endure the negative consequences on Nevada’s academic reputation by eliminating tenure, we should work toward ensuring the rigor of the tenuring process “across all academic units” at our research universities.  The process of applying for tenure and/or promotion typically begins in the candidate’s sixth year of employment.  He or she prepares a detailed tenure and promotion application, including copies of teaching evaluations and publications; in addition, the candidate designates two outside reviewers and his or her department designates two others, who comment on the research record and its impact. If a department’s recommendation to tenure and promote a faculty member is too generous, a strong dean, and/or a strong college personnel committee can overturn that positive recommendation.  On the other hand, if a dean’s recommendation is overly generous, his or her recommendation can be overturned by either the university-wide personnel committee, or by the Provost or President.  Ensuring rigorous tenure standards depends on strong leadership at the chair and dean and provost and even presidential levels. In most of UNLV’s colleges, denials of tenure and promotion, with some regularity, help to establish a climate of academic rigor in departments lagging behind.  Further, a faculty member who achieves a six-year record of excellence is unlikely to become dead wood. Continuing excellence is the positive result of a rigorous tenuring procedure.  Certainly, if a “manager” cannot accurately gauge the quality of a probationary employee’s work after six years, that manager should be replaced.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Another Point Of View #2

Here's another point of view about tenure:

Yes, ideally, tenure does create a lifetime contract between the university and its faculty member, within an increasingly competitive environment, both for the awarding of tenure and in relation to the job possibilities for the very best junior faculty and of the super star senior faculty.  That is, if the Nevada System of Higher Education eliminated tenure, not only would many of the most well qualified potential “hires” refuse to accept faculty positions, UNLV’s very best faculty would go elsewhere.  In the past three years, there have been four cases where UNLV tenured faculty secured offers from very prestigious institutions.  If tenure were to be eliminated, many more of UNLV’s star faculty would leave.  Yes, there are a few examples of “dead wood” in any institution, but with the revised Code’s enabling of “de-tenuring” a faculty member after two “unsatisfactory overall” annual evaluations, alternatives do exist, including the revoking of that “lifetime contract.”  If a faculty member’s first overall “unsatisfactory” evaluation results from a poor research performance, and if that faculty member presents, say, at least a “commendable” teaching record, a chair or dean has the option of putting that faculty member on a teaching track, where research will not be evaluated; in consequence, the faculty member so retained goes on a four-four teaching load, perhaps of  lower division courses,  a significant savings so far as cost per class.  Amazingly to some, though, despite the disappearance of “merit pay” for the last five years, most of UNLV’s faculty continue to be productive, sometimes extraordinarily so, in their research.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Another Point Of View

Here's another point of view about tenure:.
Yes, faculty really do believe, with good reason, that tenure is the only viable protection for various types of academic freedom, despite other legal safeguards for the general populace and non-faculty employees.  Academic freedom is still necessary to enable unfettered thought in the classroom and in research.  The central characteristic of “creating knowledge” is that one must explore new ideas, whose very newness is often greeted by hostility from those espousing the accepted wisdom  -- e.g. Galileo as victim.  Another type of violation of academic freedom is the imposing of an idea, by a Board or an administrator --for example, “creationism“ -- which goes against a faculty member’s considered, research-based opinion.  And the dismissal of the tenured Berkeley Eleven, during the Reagan years in California, for refusing to sign the loyalty oath entails yet another “taking” of academic freedom and tenure.  All are still, and increasingly, possible today.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Professor Writes About Corruption

This week we present comments from professors from the Nevada System of Higher Education – as you’ll see we may be doing permanent and irritable damage to the system. One professor writes:

"Corruption is so prevalent in higher education, it’s hopeless.  People use the System like it’s their own piggy bank.  Why doesn’t anyone audit who gets hired and promoted?  Nepotism and cronyism rules.  Why isn’t the state interested in really knowing what’s going on?  Cutting funding doesn’t fix corruption, the people at the top take their slice of the money and then layoff people below.  It seems that people in positions of power are never held accountable." 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Another Professor Writes:

This week we present comments from professors from the Nevada System of Higher Education – as you’ll see we may be doing permanent and irritable damage to the system. One professor writes:

"We’re hearing a lot about performance funding.  That’s great if everyone in education is held responsible, but if it’s just like No Child Left Behind and teachers become a target to blame, nothing will change.  My students need support services to be successful, yet we seem to keep cutting and cutting those services.  I can only do so much on my own."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A CSN Professor Writes...

This week we present comments from professors from the Nevada System of Higher Education – as you’ll see we may be doing permanent and irritable damage to the system. One CSN professor writes:
"How can CSN afford a new Associate Vice President position, and $150k to become an Achieving the Dream school?  We have no money for positions or salaries, yet there’s plenty to have someone else come in and tell our school leaders how to do their job.   Things don’t work in higher ed because we keep implementing the same failed solutions.  Graduation rates are low, so blame faculty, put together a committee, write a report, hire another administrator, and then of course, be shocked when nothing changes."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Professor Writes...

This week we present comments from professors from the Nevada System of Higher Education – as you’ll see we may be doing permanent and irritable damage to the system. One professor writes:

“The Regents and administrators go on and on about how they support innovation, yet whenever I try to do anything new the folks above do everything to stop me.  Change has to be more than just sound bites at public hearings.  And administrators need to be held accountable, not just faculty and staff.”

Monday, July 16, 2012

One Professor Writes...

This week we present comments from professors from the Nevada System of Higher Education – as you’ll see we may be doing permanent and irritable damage to the system. One professor writes:

“I’m looking for a teaching job out of state.  Nevada doesn’t value education or a good quality of life, so I do not want to work here or raise my children here.  Does this mean I’ll have to start over in a tenure-track position somewhere else?  Yes.  But tenure doesn’t mean anything now.  All the Regents have to do is declare financial exigency and I can be fired for no reason tomorrow.  Working in higher ed in Nevada now means low pay, bad benefits, and no job security at all.  It shouldn’t be too hard to find a job in a better state than Nevada.“

Friday, July 13, 2012

An Opposing View On The Value Of Tenure #5

If tenure is supposed to ensure that only competent, actively engaged professors maintain their positions and if tenure is supposed to embolden faculty to speak truth to power, why do critics complain that NSHE has too many faculty who resist innovation and who are too timid to challenge the status quo?  The answer isn’t that there is something wrong with tenure; actually, real enforcement of the rules associated with tenure would fix these two problems.  In other words, we need more emphasis on tenure, not less.  If there are incompetent professors, it’s not because of tenure, it’s because administrators are not held accountable for following NSHE Code or abiding by institutional Evaluation Policies.  If faculty are timid and unwilling to speak up, it’s because those who do aren’t protected by tenure.  Dissenters are punished and made an example for others.  When people who dissent are summarily removed from leadership positions; have their workload denied and classes cancelled; and find themselves blackballed from serving on shared governance committees others learn that in NSHE tenure often doesn’t matter.  But how did things get this way and how do we stop this from continuing?  In NSHE Code administrators are given discretion to set aside policies, procedures, and Code; there is supposed to be oversight and accountability, but usually it ends up being a “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”  Under these circumstances tenure provides none of the protections that produce desirable results and faculty are left at the mercy of insulated administrators who sidestep the mechanisms that would fix the problem NSEH currently faces.  Again, is the answer to Nevada’s Higher Education System’s problems getting rid of tenure?  No, the answer is to get rid of administrative discretion, hold administrators accountable for doing their jobs, and to strengthen tenure so that more faculty will feel safe enough to speak truth to power.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

An Opposing View On The Value Of Tenure #4

Tenure is necessary because college educators are not the same as other private sector employees.  Academic freedom also allows faculty to engage in the political processes that decide education budgets, salaries, and benefits.  Private sector employees deal only with management within their place of employment.  Labor laws and binding contracts cover the private employment setting.   But due to the political nature of public employment, this is not the case for public employees.  Not only do public employees have to deal with internal administrators and managers, but also with elected politicians who control regulations as well as the purse strings.  What worker in a private industry has to deal with a scenario in which her supervisor awards an excellent evaluation rating and recommends a raise, but the money never appears because a politician decides that government needs to be curtailed?  Some public sector groups unionize in order to safely engage with the state’s political machinery, but unions don’t work very well for faculty.  Different types of faculty have different needs and a wide spectrum of viewpoints.  So, faculty often need to engage with political leaders on an individual basis.  Tenure facilitates this interaction by providing some protection from political retribution.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

An Opposing View On The Value Of Tenure #3

Tenure provides protections not covered by other state and federal laws in the area of academic freedom.  Academic freedom is more than just free speech.  Historically, education has been a tool for those with wealth and power to maintain that wealth and power, but in recent times it has also become the means for hard-working citizens to improve their economic and class standing.  Today these two functions are often at odds with each other as those who already have wealth and/or power would prefer that they maintain a monopoly.  Consequently, political leaders and other powerful outsiders often try to pressure educational institutions and educators to alter curriculum and admissions in ways that channel or even block the second function.  But in a country such as ours where merit and hard work are to be the measure of success, limits on curriculum and access are an anathema.  To stop this from happening academic freedom must also cover faculty’s ability to say no to powerful outside meddlers; without tenure this won’t happen. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

An Opposing View On The Value Of Tenure #2

Tenure does not promote the retention of incompetent faculty.   Each NSHE institution has a Faculty Evaluation Policy based on contractual obligations and NSHE Code.  Each year Department Chairs evaluate their faculty according to these policies.  Chairs are to verify that faculty are competent in teaching and/or research; engaged in ongoing professional development; and participating in shared governance and community service.  If a faculty member is not meeting these contractual obligations as well as Code standards, it is the Chair’s responsibility to meet with the faculty member and remediate his/her performance.  Two unsatisfactory evaluations can lead to the termination process for all faculty, tenured as well as untenured.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

An Opposing View On The Value Of Tenure

Tenure does not create a lifetime contract between the state and tenured professors. The Nevada System of Higher Education’s Code, Chapter 6 lists the many criteria under which a tenured faculty member can be terminated.  These criteria include competency in teaching and ongoing professional development. The difference then lay not in whether a tenured faculty member can be terminated, but instead in how a tenured faculty member is terminated.  Chapter 6 states that tenured faculty may only be terminated for cause, such as violating or incompetently executed of one or more criterion, and must be afforded due process rights in the event of termination.  As Nevada is a “right to work” state the law allows other types of employees to be terminated without cause or due process, so the only advantage tenure provides in relation to employment is tenured faculty receiving notification of the cause for termination and a process that proves the cause before being terminated.  Considering the amount of education and the years of work required to be awarded tenure, cause and due process seem pretty reasonable benefits not provided for in state law. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

If I Were A Legislator...

If I were a legislator or a governor and was presented with the history of tenure in Nevada, which creates lifetime employment contracts for both the competent and the incompetent, and I learned that the incompetent professors prevented the higher education system from improving as it should have, rather than hold endless meetings to try to put in a process to repair the tenure problem, I would simply do one thing.  I would continue to cut funding of higher education until it either disappeared or repaired itself.  My guess is that its disappearance would occur long before its repair.

Remember that tenure creates a lifetime employment contract between the university and the professor which in reality cannot be terminated by the university.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Discussing Tenure

I know that I have spent a lot of time over the past several weeks discussing tenure. I know it has been an exercise in futility because there is no power on earth to change it.  You therefore ask yourself why I spent this much time and effort in looking at the problem.  My answer is simple.   If you can’t get those who have created the problem to solve it; in fact, if you can’t even get those who caused the problem to understand there is a problem, then you have to go outside of the institution to solve it.
Remember that tenure creates a lifetime employment contract between the university and the professor which in reality cannot be terminated by the university.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tenure Used To Protect Incompetent Employees

I receive comments from faculty members that the personnel problems at a university are different from the personnel problems in private industry.  I have been in both academia and private industry.  The personnel problems are exactly the same.  However, the rights of an employee that protect that employee from discrimination or other illegal conduct are adequate because of present statutory law, not because of a “tenure” concept.  Employers who abuse employees or discriminate against them in any manner face serious legal consequences.  One difference between the private sector and academia is that statutory rights of an employee in private industry do not protect the employee from incompetence or misconduct.

Tenure can be and has too often been used to protect incompetent employees.

Remember that tenure creates a lifetime employment contract between the university and the professor which in reality cannot be terminated by the university.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Tool To Protect The Unimaginative

Tenure has become the tool to protect the unimaginative, uncreative, unambitious and in general the incompetent members of the faculty.  Think of hiring an employee and only finding out after two or three years that the employee had no ambition, did as little as possible to perform his or her job and took advantage of every loophole in the system.  As soon as you had learned that, you would fire that employee and move on.  But with tenure IF YOU HIRE THEM, YOU HAVE GOT THEM FOR LIFE.  Never be naïve enough to believe that you can pass them off on another university.  It will not happen.

Remember that tenure creates a lifetime employment contract between the university and the professor which in all reality cannot be terminated by the university.

Monday, July 2, 2012


Over 20 years ago one of the most outstanding Regents the state has ever had proposed the elimination of tenure.  The reasons were sound.  But the uproar and backlash of the faculty came close to a lynching and the regent was forced to abandon the project.  However, one compromise was reached and that is the Nevada process of “de-tenuring.”  This process occurs when a faculty member gets two unsatisfactory evaluations in a row.  I know of no professor who has ever been de-tenured and in fact when the process was tried, the professor sued and even though the system had a very strong case, it lost after spending several hundred thousands of dollars.  
Tenure is alive and well and flourishing in Nevada.    

Remember that tenure creates a lifetime employment contract between the university and the professor which in reality cannot be terminated by the university.