University of Massachusetts
A Letter to the Faculty
22 February 1999
In this letter, I will lay out what I think some of the specific benefits are of the PMYR proposal on which you are now voting, and in doing so, I will also address the erroneous argument of a few colleagues that tenure and academic freedom would be compromised were this proposal to become policy. Because there has been disagreement about how to interpret the language of the proposed policy, I will use the policy's text itself wherever possible in making my arguments.
The benefits are twofold. As policy, this proposal would protect the faculty, and it would develop the faculty.
Protecting the faculty. How you might ask can a review of all tenured faculty members' professional activity every seven years protect them? It does so in many ways.
First, the policy and the contract jointly guarantee faculty members' academic freedom and right to free inquiry, and these guarantees always apply. Principle 2 of the policy states: "PMYR must assure the protection of the faculty member's academic freedom, and right to full and free inquiry, as prescribed in the contract." The contract itself states in Article VIII that "Bargaining unit members are entitled to full academic freedom in research and in the publication of the results. They are entitled to full academic freedom in discussing their subjects in the classroom" and "A bargaining unit member shall not be disciplined or deprived of any professional advantage for exercising his/her rights to academic freedom as set forth in this Article or as protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."
Furthermore, a faculty member can only be judged by standards that guarantee their academic freedom. Principle 6 of the policy states that "standards of evaluation" for reviewing a faculty member's professional activity "must be fair and consistent with departmental, college, and campus practice." As protection of academic freedom and free inquiry is "consistent with departmental, college, and campus practice" the language of the policy reinforces and does not undermine that protection. The requirement that standards be "fair and consistent" also ensures that the faculty member's professional activity is not judged according to tacit, capricious, or prejudicial criteria, and thus prevents the policy from being used to target unpopular or iconoclastic members of a department. Finally, a recommendation by the personnel committee or chair for a revision of the faculty member's statement is intended "to support and encourage the faculty member's effective contribution and professional development, and it shall in no way impinge on the faculty member's academic freedom."
These guarantees also protect he faculty from having to conform to majority opinion in their departments. A central concern of the PMYR committee was that the review not provide the evaluators with any way of harming those colleagues whose professional choices differed from those of the other faculty in their departments. This has also been the central concern of some critics of the proposed policy.
Two kinds of cases can be roughly distinguished. In the first, the faculty member remains highly productive and engaged by the standards of discipline, but his or her approach differs markedly from that of the majority of faculty in the department. In the second, the faculty member has decided to focus most of his or her efforts on just one or two of the three areas of professional activity but the department places greatest value on the slighted area.
The proposed policy addresses these cases explicitly at the end of statement of Purpose: "PMYR ... assures that the talents of faculty members and their contributions to the University are maximized throughout their careers," in Principle 7: "PMYR is intended to recognize that individual interests and abilities of faculty members may change over time, and that faculty members may meet their professional responsibilities to their department in varied and changing ways," and finally most strongly in the discussion of what a revised statement may do "The revised statement may include a reallocation of the faculty member's effort and such reallocation will itself not diminish the faculty member's entitlement to merit funds; nor shall it impinge on his/her academic freedom. Any proposed reallocation of duties should not be designed, intended, or used for the purposes of controlling, restricting, or redirecting the nature of the faculty member's research or scholarship is his or her area of expertise" (emphasis added). Together with the other explicit protections of academic freedom and free inquiry pointed out above, these three statements from the policy require that departments accept the diversity of approaches their faculty members take to their professional lives. These statements also require the department to acknowledge that a faculty member may continue to perform professionally to a high standard, even if not in all three areas of professional activity. In both kinds of cases then, the proposed policy ensures that a faculty member can no longer by denied rewards, burdened with excess duties, nor disdained by their colleagues for the professional choices they have made.
The second protection lies in the fact that the review is carried out by the same people that now review a faculty member's professional activity annually, their colleagues serving on the department personnel committee and as head or chair of the department. Neither the dean nor any other administrator contributes to the review. Dean may only concur, or if he or she does not concur, "the [faculty member's] statement along with specific comments from the dean explaining the nonconcurrence will be returned to the faculty member, personnel committee, and chair for revision." This power is no more than what the dean may now exercise in response to the AFR.
Third, in the event that a faculty member disagrees with the revisions recommended by his or her colleagues or the dean, he or she may appeal to a committee composed of faculty members from his or her college. The faculty member "shall have the right to remove any committee members (up to six) whose participation he or she deems inappropriate" and may select a faculty member to advocate on his or her behalf. This appeal committee will have the power to mediate a resolution of the disagreement.
Fourth, the policy explicitly bars the use of the PMYR as a step toward discipline or dismissal: "No aspect of the PMYR process, including but not limited to informal discussion, written recommendations, or the fact or details of modified faculty development plans generated as part of the process shall be considered as an initial stage in any disciplinary process or be introduced as evidence or otherwise referred to in any later disciplinary procedures".
Taken together, these four protections entail that a faculty member's agreement to and participation in a revised statement is entirely voluntary. A faculty member cannot be coerced into a reallocation of duties or other changes in how he or she conducts his or her professional life, either by threat of discipline or denial of rewards. These statements also make clear that faculty members are always protected by their productivity and engagement with their discipline.
Fifth, the simple fact that a policy exists for reviewing every tenured faculty member's professional activity periodically will protect us by demonstrating to the legislature, the public, and any other "external constituencies" that members of this faculty do account for their professional activity.
Developing the faculty. The proposed policy explicitly provides resources to faculty members who wish on the occasion of the PMYR to undertake a new professional initiative or to change in some fundamental way how they divide their labor between research, teaching, and service. These resources are also available for faculty members who wish to solve some difficulty in their professional activity on this occasion. And the policy's emphasis on the professional development of a faculty member is a sixth protection, for it requires that departments deal with any professional difficulty one of their members may face through a sustained, good-faith effort at professional development. Of course, the faculty and the union will have to ensure, in bargaining future contracts, that the necessary development resources are made available and that development does not take place at the expense of other needs.
In closing, let me say that I believe this is a far better policy than any the PMYR committee studied last fall, in both its protections of faculty members' academic freedom and its emphasis on professional development. If you comments or suggestions, you may write them on your ballot, contact any member of the PMYR committee (our email addresses are on the website), or send them to the MSP (email@example.com).
University of Massachusetts
On-line Document Created February 22, 1999
Last Updated: February 22, 1999