Been There, Didn’t Do It

TaxProf Blog has some interesting news about tenure from Wayne State (WSU) in Michigan.  The headline says that the WSU administration is trying to dismiss at least five underperforming tenured professors [emphasis added].  According to TaxProf, tenured WSU faculty can be dismissed for:

At Wayne State, there are three reasons why a professor with tenure could face dismissal: moral turpitude, such as sexual assault of a colleague or misconduct with a student; violating generally accepted academic practices such as fraud in research; or failure to perform academic assignments competently, according to university statutes. Wilson said all the professors are facing hearings because of failure to perform in their academic assignments, per the recommendation of medical school Dean Jack Sobel. …

As in Wisconsin, it appears incompetence or underperforming expectations is not sufficient for the dismissal of a tenured professor.  We dealt with a number of similar situations in our career.  One was an underperforming tenured faculty member as chair.  We met with the dean and System legal.  It was clear that dismissal had to be for cause.  Information like merit scores of zero were not relevant.  There had to be cause.  It took years to convince the faculty member to take early retirement.  A second was when we investigated a non-renewal (academic for firing) before tenure.  Because the department had previously lauded the candidate before finding out some serious concerns, the candidate got the benefit of the doubt because there is an expectation that the candidate will get a chance to improve.  The candidate ended up with tenure.

We don’t know the administration’s case against the tenured faculty members but if we were forced to lay odds the professors would be heavy favorites.  Michigan’s rules look much like Wisconsin’s.  The administration has a very narrow road to success to prove failure to perform academic assignments.  Missing a meeting won’t do it.  Any due process failure will doom the administration.  What actions have the administration taken to communicate with the faculty?  The fact that they are going after five or more makes it even more unlikely.  That is, it could be true that one faculty member behaved in a manner that would lead to dismissal but the large number sounds like underperformance and that is not sufficient.  We await the results because they will have a big impact on future actions.

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