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Thursday, Dec. 21st 2017

Faculty Post-Tenure Review

In an era of eroding legislative support for higher education, the assumed lifetime security of a tenured

Senior professor

professorship at a college or university is not necessarily secure. Faculty members over the age of 65 are now more often the subject of post-tenure review with a focus on whether a professor’s research and publication contribution is adequate. Historically, colleges and universities have required an annual review of tenured faculty, applying an evaluation standard that assigns 40% value to teaching; 40% to research and publication and 20% to service on committees or other departmental or university efforts.

Not all Post-Tenure Review processes are alike. However, it is common for an annual review to assess the preceding 36-month period with substantial emphasis on the current year for evaluation of teaching. These reviews begin at the department level, conducted by a unit head and/or peer committee. The evaluation of the teaching component will contain and seriously consider student input, typically collected from online surveys completed by a professor’s students. Those student evaluations can be critical to obtaining a satisfactory evaluation. Some faculty have claimed that poor student evaluation scores are a product of tough grading while faculty who award higher grades benefit from being more popular and therefore receiving better evaluations. Student evaluations should seek to obtain specific examples of substandard teaching to minimize the grading popularity effect.

An unsatisfactory annual review in teaching often leads to the imposition of a Performance Improvement Plan. Failure to achieve the goals of a Performance Improvement Plan can lead to a recommendation of dismissal for a tenured faculty member. Typically, there must be a third year of unsatisfactory performance in either teaching or research/publication before a recommendation for dismissal is made. Such a recommendation must be approved by the Chair of the department and the Dean of the School.

Older faculty members who may have been prolific authors of research papers, books and other scholarship can find themselves having slowed down after age 65, assuming that their legacy of publication will sustain them because they have tenure. This assumption is erroneous. Mr. Cohen has represented many older faculty members whose diminished research and publication volume has been criticized and has led to the imposition of a Performance Improvement Plan and even a recommendation for dismissal.

The time to seek a consultation with Mr. Cohen is upon receipt of an initial unsatisfactory annual review. If the review has been unfair or erroneous, it may be possible to get it corrected. Failure to challenge such a review can lead to a cumulative record of poor evaluations which then are more difficult to challenge. Private colleges and universities have contract based faculty rules and policies which apply to both the institution and the faculty member. Public colleges and universities also have published policies on post-tenure review but enforcement of those policies is also governed by procedural and substantive due process protections contained in state and federal law. Mr. Cohen is an expert in procedural and substantive due process law and can be reached at: cac@studentrightslawyers.com or at 785.979.7361

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