University of Hawaii regents postpone controversial tenure proposal


October 22 — The University of Hawaii board of trustees on Thursday postponed a controversial proposal to change the tenure system following a morning session in which dozens of faculty members criticized the effort as being detrimental to the university.

The regents voted to refer the recommendations to a special ad hoc committee, made up of all council members, for further discussion in conjunction with the findings of a legislative working group also reviewing permanence.

This task force, created by the state legislature in 2020 and chaired by the chairman of the UH regents, Randy Moore, compares the UH tenure system for researchers and other non-teaching professors with universities peers and is expected to suggest best practices to lawmakers by the end of the year. .

On Thursday, the regents presented recommendations from an authorized interaction group established by the board of directors in February to examine evolving tenure issues.

The recommendations, among others, give deans and other administrators a greater contribution to the five-year review of permanent faculty members. They also reserve tenure for professors who actively engage with students in the classroom, tie tenure to enrollment requirements, and eliminate tenure lanes for support professors and extension workers.

From the moment they were made public, the recommendations were opposed by the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, the faculty union, saying they pose a threat to the well-being of its members and of the entire state university system.

Individual faculty members rallied around the proposals and offered over 600 pages of written testimony slamming the proposed changes ahead of Thursday’s meeting.

But members of the task force on Thursday said the proposals were not intended as an element of immediate action, but simply as the starting point for a more in-depth discussion that would also involve administrators, the faculty and its union. .

“It’s a long, long process,” said former administrator Jan Sullivan, who chaired the task force. “I hope everyone understands that what we are proposing to initiate is in fact the start of this discussion.”

Regent Robert Westerman, another member of the task force, said no member of the group made up mostly of UH regents and administrators has said they want to get rid of the tenure.

“It wasn’t an attempt to fire anyone. It was an attempt to start talking about tenure and how it applies to college today,” Westerman said. .

“We’ve actually heard professors and staff say, ‘Hey, we have a lot of problems in this system, and we have to find a way to fix them,'” he said. “We have to let this discussion begin. And it won’t take a few months. It will take a year or two, I think, as we move forward.”

Moore added, “We have to be deliberate and inclusive if we expect an outcome that will be acceptable and bearable by the whole university.”

Earlier in the meeting, faculty members showered criticism on the proposal, saying that undermining tenure is tantamount to weakening the university.

“If you adopt these proposals, we will have a revolving door of teachers, which is costly in time and money, and there will be a decrease in the number of teachers willing to provide essential services, which will lower our status and threaten the ‘accreditation,’ Ashley said. Maynard, professor of psychology.

Davianna McGregor, director of the UH Manoa Center for Oral History, said the proposals would help demolish Manoa as a university providing essential research that meets the needs of the community.

“Dismantling the tenure system will downgrade the University of Hawaii at Manoa, expand the diaspora of Hawaii-born residents on the mainland to seek opportunities that are no longer available at an R-1 (research) university, and betray the legacy of Hawaii’s rulers, ”she said. noted.

Specialist teachers and popularizers have come in force to defend their role as teachers deserving of tenure.

Nicholas Comerford, dean of the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and director of the Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service, also spoke out against downgrading the status of extension workers. “I don’t see this as a modernization or a simplification of the tenure process,” he said. Comerford said the UH is a rare R-1 research university that is also a land, maritime and space grants institution.

“Exactly how does this support and promote our Land Grant mission?” he asked, adding that extension workers in most universities are considered professors. “So we’re not modernizing the system, we’re actually going backwards.”

Several faculty members criticized the task force for going beyond the scope of the original mission, which was typically to investigate past and present tenure practices.

“If my students had returned a report like the one submitted by the incumbent (group), I would have given it an F grade,” said Sania Fa’amaile Betty Ickes, associate professor of history at Leeward Community College.

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