University policies governing the dismissal of tenured faculty should be amended to “improve efficiency, reduce ambiguity and … ensure fairness, transparency and due process.” 

Additionally, severance pay normally provided to dismissed tenured faculty should no longer be available in cases of “moral turpitude or professional or scholarly misconduct.”

That’s according to a report submitted this week by a nine-member faculty working group charged last fall with recommending revisions to two Regents’ Bylaws — 5.09, which describes procedures in cases of dismissal, demotion or terminal appointment, and 5.10, which covers severance pay.

The group’s additional suggestions include:

  • A single, streamlined process for hearings to replace the current two processes for cases that are either referred to the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs or to the executive authority of the affected school or college. The proposed revisions would yield a definitive recommendation within 111 calendar days, or within 149 days in cases with appeals.
  • The creation of a Standing Judicial Committee within SACUA whose members stand ready to be appointed by SACUA to serve on 5.09 hearing committees along with faculty nominated by the affected faculty member’s unit.
  • A “discovery period” before the hearing begins during which the university and the affected faculty member share all evidence and witness lists.
  • A single, optional review completed by SACUA within 21 days of appeal.
  • A revision in the 5.09 text that clarifies, but does not change, to whom it applies.

“Tenure is a bedrock principle of higher education and all that we do at the University of Michigan,” said Acting Provost Susan M. Collins. “I applaud the members of the faculty working group for their thoughtful recommendations on a very complicated and nuanced process.”

The faculty working group was unanimous that the university should not provide severance pay when a faculty member is dismissed for moral turpitude or for professional or scholarly misconduct. Examples include harassment, failing to disclose significant financial relationships with outside entities that violate contractual terms, intentional refusal to perform properly assigned academic duties, deliberately falsifying data and serious plagiarism.

In its report, the working group noted that this recommendation around severance aligns with American Association of University Professors guidelines.

The report reiterates the importance of tenure in providing faculty with “protections against harassment on the grounds of political or religious beliefs, or racial, gender, sexual identity and any other form of persecution or discrimination, that would lead to diminishment of academic freedom.”

But the report also states that oftentimes the alleged misconduct falls clearly outside the intended protections of tenure.

“Such cases threaten the institution of tenure when the alleged misconduct is of a nature that was never meant to, and should not, enjoy the protections of tenure and the rights and privileges thereof,” the report stated.

In establishing the working group last fall, the provosts at U-M’s Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses charged members with developing recommendations to allow an expedited process and interim measures in 5.09 cases involving “manifestly egregious misconduct.”

The group’s final report recommends no expedited proceedings or interim measures, arguing that the proposed streamlined process mitigates much of the rationale behind that request.

The working group initially proposed developing a pay suspension committee review process for cases involving manifestly egregious misconduct but opted against it in the final report after further consideration and feedback from faculty.

The group held five town halls, solicited input via an online survey and email address, and reviewed similar policies at other Big Ten and peer institutions.

“Through emails, survey responses and the town halls, faculty let us know when they felt we were on the right track, and when they felt we were on the wrong track. This important feedback provided the committee with viewpoints beyond those we’d considered, and they made a difference,” said working group chair Sharon Glotzer, the John Werner Cahn Distinguished University Professor of Engineering and Stuart W. Churchill Collegiate Professor of Chemical Engineering.

“We hope that, through our report, we have provided the regents with sound recommendations for clarifying and strengthening, through revisions to our 5.09 process, the intended protections of tenure — namely academic freedom,” said Glotzer, who also is a professor of chemical engineering, materials science and engineering, macromolecular science and engineering, and physics.

The full report has been shared with the Board of Regents for possible action.