Board hears tenure feedback

January 31, 2017

State Board of Higher Education reviews policy on termination notification


A policy that would affect reporting requirements for employee termination generated significant comment when the State Board of Higher Education met last week.

Policy 605.3, which deals with nonrenewal, termination or dismissal of faculty, generated extensive public comment from faculty who had connected to the meeting via Interactive Video Network. The policy change was proposed in order to offer campuses more flexibility over personnel decisions in advance of further potential budget cuts. Currently, tenured faculty are given one-year notice in the case of termination. The policy change would modify that to a minimum of 90-days.

Chancellor Mark Hagerott began the conversation by acknowledging that the faculty are a precious resource for numerous reasons, and the discussion to implement the potential change had not been undertaken lightly.

“Faculty are the bedrock of the university system,” he said, noting that financial pressures facing the system amounted to a budget crisis that is likely the largest shock to higher education in the state since the 30s. He noted that is the reason for the accelerated policy change. “This is just a tool to shift to a higher level of flexibility for colleges. If, for the financial stability of an institution a program has to be terminated, then it needs the flexibility to adjust quickly.”

Hagerott emphasized that the 90-day notification period was a minimum, and campuses had latitude in how to use it.

Board Chair Kathleen Neset echoed Hagerott’s sentiment about faculty being vital to campus success, and opened discussion for faculty to speak their concerns. Each campus’ representation told personal and professional stories about what this change would mean for them. Among the concerns most prevalent were how the proposed 90-day termination notification window was a radical departure from the current one-year notice. Many faculty noted that such a change would detract from faculty recruiting efforts, which would lower the quality of instruction over time. Additionally, many faculty members noted how moving to a 90-day reporting requirement would be disruptive to the 12-month hiring cycle standard to higher education.

Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United, spoke on strong opposition to the policy revision. He said it would have dire and unintended consequences that would hollow the workforce in the state.

Board faculty adviser Ernst Pijning said that for faculty, the most important thing is to preserve the institutions of higher education and to meet the needs of students. He said the potential change was “bad policy, because it will not help to retain and recruit faculty on the long term, and therefore discontinue important academic programs and research.”

Board Member Kevin Melicher stated that it would be important to evaluate personnel costs, as they made up a large percentage of expenditures, although he wasn’t sure this policy was the best way forward.

Board Member Greg Stemen said he sympathized with faculty, and understood that this was a change that could make it hard for many. He stated that the policy was not a reflection of how the system or the Board viewed faculty, and if changed the 90-day allowable timeframe wouldn’t necessarily become the new standard.

“We’re in a position where all things have to be on the table,” he said. “It would be great to have viable alternatives, rather than just say that it’s unacceptable.”

Board Member Mike Ness said faculty was the lifeblood of the system, and that while the budget situation was dire, any policy implemented needed to be done right.

Board Member Kari Reichert noted that student success was the ultimate goal of everyone within the university system, and was facilitated by faculty.

Student Member Nick Evans said from a student perspective, the implications could be disastrous for faculty and students. He said he was not completely opposed to hearing options, but the policy could be considered a sweeping policy change and should be considered a last resort.

Eric Murphy, president of the Council of College Faculty, said a compromise going forward could be a 180-day notice. He said most faculty realized that if financial exigency occurred, that would be a dire situation.

The original motion was amended to allow the formation of a hybrid committee consisting of those sitting on the Academic Affairs Committee and Budget and Finance Committee to address the topic in more detail before the second reading next month.

Next in the meeting, the Board also reviewed core course admission standards for North Dakota State University and University of North Dakota. Ness noted that the concern educators had run into was that at the high school level, students were unable to fit Career and Tech education or arts-related courses into their schedules because of strict core course admissions requirements at NDSU and UND. Proposed changes would include reversing the ramp-up of the core requirements, or allowing a CTE course to count toward the requirements.

Numerous budget and finance recommendations were reviewed as well. The first was from Minot State University on a renovation project in the Gordon B. Olson Library, increased authority for completion of the bubble project, and increased authority for the Facility Building. Additionally, the Board approved three recommendations from NDSU, including authorizing a fundraising campaign for a seed cleaning facility, renovation of lavatories, and reconstruction of parking lots.

Academic and Student Affairs Committee recommendations heard by the Board included the following new programs: a minor in food science and technology at NDSU, an undergraduate certificate in diversity and inclusion and UND, and a minor in film studies at MiSU. Program terminations included a minor in coaching at NDSU, both a bachelor of science and bachelor of arts in German education at NDSU, and a minor in speech communication education at NDSU. One other item was both an organizational and name change, moving the B.A. in geology from the College of Arts and Science to a B.S. in earth science at the College of Engineering and Mines. All recommendations were approved.

The Board also held the first readings of Policy 302.5 (governance committee of SBHE); as well as the second readings of Policy 402.9 (admission policies – new international students) and Policy 407.0 (reverse transfer). All were approved.

Chief of Staff Lisa Feldner then gave the Board an update on legislative items that involved education or higher education currently under legislative review.

The next Board meeting is scheduled to take place Feb. 23 at Bismarck State College.