Education

Arkansas Profs Fear Getting Unfairly Fired Under New Policy

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Rob Shimshock Education Reporter
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The University of Arkansas system passed a tenure policy Thursday some educators believe makes it easier to fire tenured professors.

The UA system’s board of trustees unanimously voted to pass updates to Board Policy 405.1, which expand the list of reasons for faculty termination from four reasons to 12 reasons, Arkansas Online reported.

Now, UA faculty can be fired for a “pattern of conduct that is detrimental to the productive and efficient operation of the instructional or work environment.” This provision used “exceptionally broad language” that “can be used to punish people with whom you disagree,” UA Little Rock Law Professor Joshua Silverstein told trustees.

Another provision denying “untenured faculty any right to reemployment will put both [UA] law schools in accreditation trouble,” the professor told TheDCNF. Another clause permits a faculty member’s termination with “only two unsatisfactory findings when there is no control on what constitutes unsatisfactory performance — a standard the [American Association of University Professors] has expressly rejected,” he said.

Tenured UA professors have “compelling legal arguments” against the revision’s application to them, Silverstein told TheDCNF. The law professor reported that Nearly as many individuals voiced support for the Board Policy 405.1 as those who expressed dissent, the law professor reported.

One such individual was Silverstein’s own interim law dean, John DiPippa, who supported the updated policy for reasons of clarity.

“Anything can be abused,” DiPippa said to the trustees. “However, listing these specific examples, which are functional in nature, provides faculty with more guidance as to the behavior that’s expected and mitigates against that abuse.”

UA System President Donald Bobbitt supported the revised policy, characterizing it as part of a larger initiative to make the system’s policies “appropriate for the rapidly-changing landscape.”

The update “does not change the basic definition of cause [for termination],” UA System General Counsel JoAnn Maxey argued. “What has changed are the examples. … We have replaced very general terms.”

But some UA faculty disagreed with the system’s decision to use non-academic attorneys to draft the policy. (RELATED: University Of Arkansas Profs Bash Proposal That Could Fire Profs For Not Being ‘Cooperative’)

“Allowing attorneys to draft the fundamental rules that govern academic freedom in a university setting makes about as much sense as letting attorneys draft principles of medical ethics, or letting architects design the rules of evidence in court,” Silverstein told TheDCNF in November, when the policy change was still under review.

“Across the country, the First Amendment is under attack,” UA Little Rock Law Professor Robert Steinbuch told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “And the irony is that this phenomenon is more palpable within many American colleges and universities — where free expression should be at its apex.”

“Of course, that very ‘free speech’ can be annoying to those well paid administrators who aren’t interested in dissent,” Steinbuch continued. “We’ve seen this, for example, in the comments of the appropriately short-lived term of the president of the University of Edinboro, who saw the faculty as getting in his way. My understanding of faculty governance and democracy, on the other hand, is where presidents serve the interests of students and faculty, not the other way around.”

Silverstein suggested that UA faculty could unionize to create a policy that overrides Board Policy 405.1.

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