Office of the Provost

Provost's Follow-up Letter to Faculty Concerning Possible Extension of Maximum Tenure Probationary Period

 

April 18, 2011

 

Colleagues,

I am writing again about a potential change that would modify the upper limit that is allowed for tenure probationary periods.  On February 18, I wrote to explain the proposal, reasons for considering it and the issues and problems that such a step would address.  I also asked for your participation in public comment and I want to thank the many, many of you who participated.

As a reminder, at the University of Michigan, the governing faculty of each school and college decide on the length of the tenure probationary period within that school, subject to an upper limit that is prescribed by Regents’ Bylaw 5.09.  The proposed change in Bylaw 5.09 would increase the allowable upper limit on tenure probationary periods (including a terminal year) from a total of eight years to ten years.  If enacted, this would not require any school or college to change its tenure probationary period.  Decisions to change the length of the tenure probationary period would remain the prerogative of the governing faculty within each school and college. 

This proposal would not result in any changes to tenure itself, the functioning of tenure at the University of Michigan or the University’s strong and enduring commitment to tenure.  It will simply give the governing faculty of each school and college greater flexibility in setting the tenure probationary period for their unit.  This change was one of the key proposals in the 2006 report from the faculty Committee to Consider a More Flexible Tenure Probationary Period.  The report of this committee can be found at www.provost.umich.edu/reports/flexible_tenure/.

After much consultation and thought, I have decided to move forward with proposing to the Regents that they modify Bylaw 5.09 to extend the upper limit on tenure probationary periods from eight years to ten years. 

I understand that this is a complex issue and that there are individuals on both sides of the issue who have strong, passionate feelings.  In seeking advice for this decision, I have consulted with the faculty in ways that are both broad-based and deep.  As noted above, my February 18 letter to all tenured and tenure-track faculty invited their participation in public comment.  There was significant participation in public comment as a result, and overwhelmingly, those who responded supported the Bylaw change.  In addition, I've considered advice from actions taken by the Senate Assembly and Faculty Senate to voice opposition to the change.  And I have heard the views of the Dearborn Faculty Senate, as reported by Chancellor Little.  Beyond these formal inputs, I have had the opportunity to speak face to face with dozens and dozens of faculty members over the past year.

In terms of deeper consultation, I've listened with particular care to those faculty who have been selected to serve in leadership roles – those being faculty who have broad perspective and who have thought deeply about complex university issues, including issues around tenure processes.  I’ve had numerous conversations and received advice from the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee, the executive committees of the schools and colleges on the Ann Arbor campus, the President’s Advisory  Commission on Women’s Issues, the leadership of the ADVANCE program and many other faculty who are fulfilling leadership roles at the University.  The preponderance of these faculty in leadership roles support making this modification to the bylaw. 

Throughout these conversations, legitimate concerns were raised about possible unintended consequences of a school or college deciding to increase its tenure probationary period.  So, if the proposed change is approved by the Regents, I will convene a committee to advise me on steps that the Provost’s Office can take, in partnership with the Deans' Offices and Academic Human Resources, to monitor and provide oversight when a school or college decides to change the length of its tenure probationary period.  This committee will be chaired by Abby Stewart, the Sandra Schwartz Tangri Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies.  The charge and membership of the committee will be posted on the Provost’s website (www.provost.umich.edu) as soon as we have a full slate of members.

I want to thank all of you who have offered input and advice on this complex matter.  I have listened and carefully weighed all of the input I have received.  Although not everyone agrees on the best course of action, everyone who offered advice did so with the best interests of the institution and our faculty colleagues in mind.  I believe that the proposed modification of the Regents’ Bylaw will advance the continued excellence of the University and the ongoing success of the University of Michigan faculty.

Yours truly,

 

Phil Hanlon
Donald J. Lewis Professor of Mathematics and Provost

 

See also:

Q & A on the Possible Change
Updated on April 18, 2011