[The following memorandum was considered by the UTK Faculty Senate on May 25, 1981.]
REMARKS ON PROPOSED FACULTY HANDBOOK CHANGES
Associate Vice Chancellor
||Handbook Quaestiones Disputatae
You have asked for a brief indication of the principles behind present policy on two matters covered in the Faculty Handbook.
The first question is: Why don't we require that written reasons for termination of probationary faculty be given to said faculty upon request? We did it under the 1973 Handbook but stopped doing it with the 1978 Handbook.
The answer is that we did not have a good experience with this provision from 1973 to 1978, and the reason we did not is not hard to find. Simply stated, the difference between having tenure and being on probation is that in the latter the burden of proof--i.e., the responsibility for making a case for one's professional excellence and fitness for an academic program at UTK lies fully with the probationary faculty member. It is the university's responsibility to see that each person has a fair and reasonable opportunity to make this case, and the Handbook is replete with stipulations designed to guarantee that such opportunity will be made available. The Faculty Affairs Committee has the specific charge to hear grievances and appeals when it has been alleged that these procedures have not been followed. But the case having been presented to a departmental faculty, it is the role, right, and prerogative of that faculty to weigh the evidence and to make a judgment. The question before the faculty is simply: Do you believe the evidence presented is strong enough to warrant tenure? This is not an entirely scientific or empirical question; it cannot be answered exclusively or definitively with reference to a mathematical scale, a set of scores, a count of articles, speeches, or testimonials. The question calls for human judgment, which is not the same as description, deduction, inference, or calculation, although it may make use of all of these In this respect (and in this respect alone; the analogy is precise and quite narrow) the tenured faculty must act like a jury. The jury is not obliged to provide the court with a list of written reasons why it has judged as it has. That is because by definition the role of assessing the evidence has been given to them and to no other. That the decision of the jury or of the faculty may be reviewed or appealed is not germane to this point. In any event, juries are not in such appeals brought back together and asked to list the reasons for their decisions. The evidence heard by the jury is a matter of record. This is what the jury has as its "written reasons" why it made its judgment. Just so, the tenured faculty hears the case and reads the record' and if asked why it has reached a specific conclusion, its logical answer is, "Look at the record. But remember: we, and no other group, are charged to say whether the record warrants tenure."
As a result, in the years from 1973 to 1978, when the Vice Chancellor was required to render "written reasons for termination," the reasons always had to be stated with the complete formality required by the logic of the tenure system: "It was the judgment of the faculty that your teaching, research, and public service taken as a whole, were not such as to warrant tenure at UTK." If the answer had been, 'You published too many articles of too little consequence," someone might be tempted to argue the matter: 'Why, three of those articles have high ratings in the Citation Index, and the judgment is therefore mistaken." This reaction would, of course, miss the point. For better or for worse (and we hope and trust, in the main and over the long haul, for better), it is the tenured faculty who must be convinced, and not the faculty member or his or her advocates. That is what I think we mean by "burden of proof."
I have left aside here questions about poor procedure, unfair hearings, violation of academic freedom, personal grudges, etc. Such matters are subject to evidence and to inspection, just as charges of jury tampering are. Is there evidence that the tenured faculty didn't hear all the evidence? That they didn't like the point of view argued by the professor in his or her classes? That John Jones was jealous of Mary Smith? Take it to Faculty Affairs; they are empowered to take up the matter for review, and they have done so, numerous times since 1978.
You have asked for comments about a second issue. This is: Why isn't the University obliged to count prior full-time university service as part of the seven-year probationary period? Before 1978, persons with prior service were usually given only so many remaining probationary years as would make the total before a tenure determination no more than seven. As it is now, a person can teach elsewhere six years and still be assigned as many as seven probationary years, for a total of thirteen. How come?
Our new, more flexible policy seems to have served the probationary faculty members and the University well. Many persons who were appointed prior to 1978 to shorter probationary periods asked for consideration under the new policy and were granted a full seven years' probation at UTK. It was to their advantage to have a longer period. Many of them faced teaching and research demands quite different from those they faced in their earlier appointments, and they needed time to do the work that would make a good case for tenure. Many had taught full time well before receiving the doctorate. In such cases there had been little time for full professional growth of the kind that is expected at UTK.
Under present policy such factors can be taken into account. The length of the maximal probationary period can be negotiated at the time of appointment with better attention to individual differences. Nobody but nobody would be better served by reinstating the old inflexibility. There has been no abuse of the new system. There are no reasons to change it back.
Indeed, there are good reasons to consider extending the probationary period beyond seven. Perhaps we should do so when much of the probationary period is served before completion of the doctorate. In some fields seven years is not really long enough to tell whether a person will be a productive scholar in the field. Why not an eleven-year probationary period?
I hope that these remarks will be helpful to you and to the Senate in your ongoing efforts to make this a fair and rigorous and humane place to teach and study.
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