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Executive Review of Promotion and Tenure Cases

Executive review refers to President McRobbie’s review of promotion and tenure dossiers, prior to forwarding the names of successful candidates to the Board of Trustees.  The University Faculty Council approved this aspect of the promotion and tenure process on a trial basis in 2008, and the president distributed a memo dated December 5, 2008, summarizing his understanding of how this would work.  Several years of the trial have passed and we believe it is now time for the UFC to reconsider its action.

We want to say clearly that we are not challenging President McRobbie’s participation in the promotion and tenure process.  We know that this has been an issue in some minds, but our understanding of university structure is that if the Board of Trustees must approve a promotion or the granting of tenure, then the president’s office must be involved.  However, there exist a number of interpretations about the appropriate role of a university president in the processes of promotion and tenure, and we believe these views should be part of a full discussion as IU formulates a permanent policy concerning executive review. Our chapter’s Fall 2009 Report raised a number of points in this connection. Here, we wish to raise a different issue, one that directly concerns current practice under the November 2008 memo.

We understand that President McRobbie has accepted the recommendation coming from the campus level in the overwhelming majority of cases.  This is as it should be if those reviewing the dossiers are competent.  However, there have been cases which come to the president with a positive recommendation from the campus that have been denied at the executive review level.   We object in the strongest terms to the way the process plays out upon such a denial.  Our understanding of how this works comes from the previously cited memo and from the experience of the Committee A group in the IUB AAUP chapter, which consults with faculty involved in the grievance process.

What happens when a case that originates in Bloomington is denied at the executive review level?  The memo indicates that the provost “will notify the candidate of the negative recommendation”, and upon first reading this appears to be appropriate, although we are sympathetic to those who believe that the notification should come from the president.  Faculty members are accustomed to review.  We have all been recipients of the results of various review procedures, and when we read the language regarding notifying the candidate of the negative recommendation, it would be natural to conclude that this notification is like all the others that we receive in that it contains an explanation of the decision.  Our consulting experience indicates that this is not what happens.  The candidate is simply told that the case has been denied.

The memo also indicates that the candidate is free to pursue a remedy, which in our system means that a grievance may be filed with the Faculty Board of Review.  We ask you to contemplate the feasibility of developing a persuasive grievance case absent information about the basis of the decision.  In our view it cannot be done, and therefore the part of the president’s memo addressing remedies has to be viewed as a chimera.

This memo does not serve the Office of the President well.  The idea that a critical decision in the life of an IU faculty member can be made with no explanation whatsoever is absolutely contrary to decades of practice within the university.  It is very disrespectful of the faculty and is a practice that must be altered.

If unaccountable executive review becomes a permanent feature of our promotion and tenure system, the IU academic community will have no protection against personnel actions based on arbitrary judgments. This would leave IU vulnerable to the types of politically motivated personnel decisions that led to the creation of the AAUP in 1915. We are certain that this was not the intent of the president when designing the present trial procedure. It is, however, why the IUB AAUP chapter regards this as a fundamental academic freedom and faculty governance issue, one to which it must speak forcefully.

Therefore, we call on the University Faculty Council, which has jurisdiction over promotion and tenure procedures under the Constitution of the Indiana University Faculty, to revisit the executive review procedure as soon as possible and implement changes that restore the right of the faculty to know the basis of decisions made therein.

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Julie Bobay, Treasurer AAUP-IUB
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