Preliminary Report The Special Committee
Definitions Regarding Tenure Excerpts from the Laws of the Regents

SEPTEMBER 16, 1996

University of Colorado
Special Committee on Tenure and Post Tenure Review



Today, the tenure system and related faculty issues are under scrutiny, both from within the higher educational establishment and from external constituencies. In Colorado, the General Assembly has requested the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) to evaluate the appropriate faculty roles at public colleges and universities, and to examine specifically four broad issues: appropriateness of tenure, post-tenure review and faculty productivity, the balance between full-time and part-time faculty, and the balance between research and teaching.

The University of Colorado wishes to assist CCHE in its task and is taking this opportunity to examine the issues of tenure and faculty productivity within the four-campus system. President Buechner has convened a Special Committee on Tenure and Post-Tenure Review (members listed in Attachment 1). This Preliminary Report offers the Committee's's initial responses to the issues raised by the General Assembly. Its purpose is to identify matters for consideration rather than make recommendations, and to indicate policy directions the Committee will pursue in the next months. (Attachment 2 provides definitions of common terms encountered in a discussion of tenure. Attachment 3 contains relevant sections of the Laws of the Regents regarding tenure and evaluation of faculty.) Future reports will analyze these issues more fully and offer specific recommendations.

I. Is tenure appropriate for the University of Colorado?

At the University of Colorado, tenure is defined to mean continuous appointment, subject to termination for cause. It is not granted automatically or on the basis of seniority. In accordance with the Laws of the Regents, tenure is granted to faculty, after a rigorous probationary period, on the basis of "meritorious performance" in teaching, research, and service and "demonstrated excellence" in teaching or research (see Attachment 2). This definition guides our answer: Yes, tenure is appropriate for the University.

This answer is not unconsidered or automatic. It reflects the Committee's view of how to develop a faculty that best serves the State of Colorado, the University, and its students - a community of superior scholars and teachers who offer outstanding education to future generations, participate in the discovery of new knowledge, and provide a great variety of services within the academic community and to society at large. Both President Buechner and the Committee believe tenure is essential to recruit and retain such a faculty. Without tenure, excellence in teaching, research, and service would be threatened. If Colorado abandoned tenure, some faculty would go to institutions that retain tenure and quality here would decline.

There are several aspects of tenure that support the university's mission in education, research, and service, and also contribute to the state's economic development:

  • Tenure guarantees a climate of free inquiry, in which faculty and students study and learn the lessons of the past, understand the present state of knowledge, and pursue new paths of inquiry without having to adapt to current intellectual preferences or fashions. Tenure promotes learning and research related to controversial subjects and protects teachers from inappropriate retribution. The resulting formulation of new knowledge and ideas improves people's lives and benefits the citizens of Colorado and the nation.

  • Tenure allows faculty to take a long-term approach to teaching, research, and service rather than pursue short-term goals, as most other institutions must. Society benefits from the creative space that tenure provides faculty. But this time to experiment and be creative is a privilege that demands accountability. Tenured faculty must show that they are productive as teachers, researchers, and providers of service to the community. The university must hold faculty accountable in order to maintain public trust.

  • Tenure is a critical factor in attracting and keeping excellent faculty. Many faculty could work in the private sector and earn higher salaries. Tenure is a compensating factor that helps to encourage some talented teachers to accept the lower salaries offered by universities. Without tenure, faculty might turn to collective bargaining and unionization, as is presently taking place in Minnesota.

  • Tenure protects faculty, and indirectly students, from academic and administrative actions based on factors other than performance, such as political pressure and personal prejudice. A free society depends upon the development and expression of ideas, even politically or culturally unpopular ideas. The university, with the tenure system, has been and remains a bulwark of independent thought.

  • Tenure provides for the orderly induction of individual faculty into the community of mature scholars, based upon a rigorous evaluation of past accomplishment and future promise in teaching and research as measured by objective criteria and experts from outside CU. Excellence, rather than mere adequacy, is required.

On the other hand, we recognize that the tenure system can be improved. The Committee considered whether the existing criteria for tenure are appropriate for our institutional needs.

The criteria seem right: to achieve tenure, the candidate must demonstrate merit in three areas--teaching, research*, and service--and excellence in either teaching or research. But sometimes in practice research has outweighed other considerations. This tendency to value research activity so highly has a history. Since the end of World War II, the federal government has granted millions of dollars for basic and applied research to public and private research universities.

*For arts and humanities faculty, research includes creative work, such as painting, sculpture, dance, poetry, etc.

These grant dollars (more than $250 million annually and more than 25% of CU's total annual revenues) supplement the general fund and tuition revenues and pay for laboratories, graduate student stipends, and faculty salaries. Thus, it is not surprising that the culture of higher education has come to prize research accomplishments above teaching. Many faculty are active in community and university service, although service has been taken for granted and generally not valued as highly as either research or teaching.

The Committee will explore various approaches to making the tenure process produce an appropriate balance of teaching, research and service by:

  1. Retaining the existing criteria, but taking steps to ensure uniform compliance.
  2. Adjusting the criteria to give added emphasis to teaching and to ensuring that service is valued appropriately.

II. What about post-tenure review and faculty productivity?

The overwhelming majority of faculty, after achieving tenure, continue the successful careers predicted by their pre-tenure accomplishments Occasionally,however, some faculty become less productive after they receive tenure. Post-tenure review is the university's process for evaluating the ongoing productivity of its tenured faculty that has been conducted at CU since 1983. In practice, this process has not always produced the desired result because: (1) it lacks the developmental funds needed to assist faculty anxious to improve or retool--ever more necessary as the pace of change accelerates in most fields; and (2) it lacks the sanctions (from salary cuts to dismissal) needed to make it really effective.

An important method for assuring productivity is the university's differentiated workload policy that permits faculty responsibilities for teaching, research, and service to vary from person to person within a department and from year to year. Under this policy, some faculty have more teaching responsibilities; others have more research responsibilities; still others may have unusually high service commitments. Such variations are inevitable and quite appropriate among departments, within a department, and even over the career of a professor. No complex organization has all its employees doing exactly the same thing. The Committee is concerned, however, that the differentiated workload policy is not being applied as well as it might to meet university needs or to capitalize on faculty strengths, especially during post-tenure review.

The Committee believes these issues may be addressed by restructuring the post-tenure review process. The university needs to consider the consequences if we were to:

  1. Retain the existing system, but recommend more thorough post-tenure reviews and provide ongoing funding for faculty development when desire and effort remain but opportunity for productivity has been absent, and impose reasonable sanctions for faculty lacking the desire and effort to remain productive.

  2. Retain tenure but expect faculty to develop specific performance plans for each post-tenure review period, specifying duties and setting performance expectations against which productivity would be evaluated. Consistent failure to perform up to expectation could be defined as grounds for dismissal.

Because the university desires to keep the public's confidence that it is properly handling the responsibilities and privileges of tenure, all reasonable policy alternatives will be carefully evaluated.

III. What is an appropriate balance between part-time and full-time faculty?

There is probably no single "correct" answer for all departments and all institutions. The Committee recognizes that the regular tenured and tenure-track faculty (most of whom are full time) are the core of the institution. Their expertise, commitment, and values define and preserve the university. Full-time faculty provide continuity of instruction and ongoing outreach to the community, take responsibility for updating the curriculum, and advise students throughout their university experiences. But temporary faculty, whether full-time or part-time, are also an important component, and they too make valuable contributions. Each campus makes use of such faculty in varying degrees and for different reasons, among which are: (1)involving community experts and practitioners and their "real world" experience in teaching our students; (2) bringing to the University knowledge, skills, and points of view which complement and augment those of the full-time faculty; (3) meeting increased student demand for particular courses while retaining small group instruction within the context of budget constraints; and (4) developing teaching skills of advanced graduate students (a vital part of their training to be future faculty).

Economic pressures push universities to expand their part-time and temporary faculty perhaps beyond the point that is wise for the institution or useful to its students. In addition, temporary faculty, who are hired year after year, have become second-class citizens in the University. Anticipated enrollment increases will only worsen this situation. The Committee recommends that each campus review its balance of full-time and part-time faculty in light of both its own role and mission and its fiscal constraints.

IV. What is the right balance between research and teaching?

At the research university, teaching and research are not conflicting activities. They are both essential and complementary elements of student learning. Faculty members use their own discoveries and those of their colleagues in teaching students in classrooms, seminars, and laboratories. Students need to learn how to do research in preparation for their careers. While learning from active research faculty, students are exposed to the exciting environment of discovery and may even, as advanced undergraduates or graduate students, participate in making discoveries. This is experiential learning at its finest. A research university education challenges students, helps them understand that knowledge is constantly evolving, provides them with a sense of the future direction of their major discipline, and helps them achieve state-of-the-art skills.

While the research mission sets the research university apart from other institutions of higher education, the research university is an educational institution and thus, good teaching always remains a fundamental goal. No activity or other university priority should undercut that goal. Teaching excellence means outstanding instruction, including innovative teaching techniques, fair methods of evaluation and feedback, timely advising, curricular support, and incorporation of new knowledge. Teaching excellence also means providing adequate access to courses and a physical and psychological environment appropriate to learning. Faculty and administration must ensure that these needs are met.

In order to achieve the optimal balance of teaching and research, the Committee will examine the following:

  • new ways of connecting faculty research with student learning, already called for in President Buechner's initiative, "the total learning environment;"*

  • current workload policies and practices on the different campuses;

  • the rewards system and its relationship to each campus's role and mission.

The contents of this report are based upon discussion and written communications that have resulted from:

  • a general call for comments from the University community
  • informal conversations with faculty and administration
  • several meetings of the Committee

*President Buechner has established the goal of making the University of Colorado a total learning environment. The initiative has four themes: supporting innovations in learning, including both undergraduate and graduate education; being more responsive to students and other constituents; using technology to improve teaching, learning, research, and management; and enhancing the University's human, capital, financial and organizational infrastructure.