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May 23, 1996

UPJ faculty want tenure votes to be upheld

Faculty Senate members at Pitt's Johnstown campus want UPJ President Albert Etheridge to uphold recommendations of faculty tenure review committees, or, when he doesn't, to explain his reservations.

The faculty motion was one of three passed on a ballot vote after Etheridge denied tenure to three faculty members who had been recommended for tenure by review panels. Etheridge has since reversed his decision in one case and is reconsidering another. The third faculty member is appealing Etheridge's decision.

Specifically, the faculty motions call for Etheridge to, in most cases, concur with the recommendations of the faculty on tenure cases or discuss his reservations with the Faculty Status Committee; protect tenure stream positions, and reconsider the cases of the three faculty who were denied tenure. Ballots with the motions were mailed to UPJ Faculty Senate members after Faculty Senate meetings on April 10 and 17. During those meetings, the tenure issues produced some heated discussion.

Faculty members were upset because Etheridge's action marks the first time that a UPJ president has denied tenure to faculty members who have successfully passed through the tenure review process. Faculty Senate President Dennis McNair has informed Etheridge of the results of the balloting, which concluded on May 10. However, the results are not binding. They are only meant to inform Etheridge of the faculty's thinking, McNair said.

"I've tried to not express any animosity because I want to work with him," said McNair. "And he's been a gentleman throughout this. It's simply a matter of communicating with him." Etheridge is on vacation and could not be reached for comment. McNair said about two-thirds of UPJ's approximately 150 faculty members cast a ballot. The results were as follows: * Motion 1 was supported by a vote of 66-32 with 1 abstention. The motion states that since tenured faculty spend hundreds of hours deliberating each promotion and tenure case sent to the president's office with a positive recommendation, "we expect the President will, in most cases, concur with the recommendations of the faculty, and, if not, come to the Faculty Status Committee for discussion and consultation." * Motion 2 was supported by a vote of 6-31 with 2 abstentions. The motion notes that since tenure plays a critical role in protecting the right of free speech and academic freedom, "we expect the President to protect those positions already in the tenure stream and to oppose attempts to hire outside the tenure stream whenever possible." * Motion 3 was approved 51-44 with 4 abstentions. It asks Etheridge to reconsider the three cases for tenure.

In a previous interview with the University Times, Etheridge said he changed his mind about one of the three cases after the faculty member in question and the division chair supplied him with additional information. Faculty members who served on the tenure review committees involved in the three cases were angered by Etheridge's original decision to deny tenure because they felt he was questioning their judgment and undermining their ability to advise tenure-stream faculty. Objections also were raised because Etheridge did not discuss his concerns with the faculty review committees before denying tenure.

When tenure was denied in previous cases at UPJ, it happened earlier in the review process, not after the cases were submitted to the president with a positive recommendation to grant tenure, as happened with the three cases in question.

Etheridge said he originally denied tenure to the three faculty members after examining the UPJ criteria for teaching and professional service as detailed in the faculty handbook.

Etheridge added that he plans to meet with the appropriate faculty committees to discuss his decision and the way he interpreted the criteria for tenure. That meeting, however, will have to wait until completion of the appeal filed by one of the faculty members who was denied tenure, the president said.

–Mike Sajna

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