SENATE From the Chair

On Tenure: A Letter to Minnesota

The following letter was sent pursuant to instructions of the Senate Executive Committee that the Chair of the Faculty Senate explain the reasons why the Senate Executive Committee unanimously expressed its opposition to the proposed tenure revisions being considered by the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota.--P.J.K.

October 10, 1996

The Honorable Thomas R. Reagan
Chair, Board of Regents
University of Minnesota
220 Morrill Hall
100 Church Street, S.E.
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Dear Regent Reagan:

Last week, the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate of the University of Pennsylvania, voted unanimously to express its profound opposition to the proposed tenure revisions being considered by the Regents of the University of Minnesota. They also asked me to convey to you the reasons underlying our dismay at your assault on the basic elements of the traditional tenure system.

We believe the tenure system is justified by the benefits it conveys to a productive and vital free society. The American higher education system is by far the best and most effective in the world. It educates more citizens, generates more research, produces more inventions, accounts for more Nobel Prizes proportionally, than that of any other country. The great research universities, including the University of Minnesota, lie at its core, and are the envy of the world.

The tenure system maintains the secure conditions for freedom of scholarly and scientific inquiry that are the very foundation of American universities' long-standing success. Without such unfettered freedom, it is impossible to imagine many people taking the kinds of intellectual risks that are required to maintain our competitive advantage in research and scholarship. A simple examination of the relative productivity of American versus Soviet universities during the cold war illustrates the tremendous advantage of faculties able to push every kind of intellectual frontier without fear of sanction or reprisal.

Tenure also undergirds the participatory governance that characterizes our colleges and universities. In America, faculties collaborate with administrators to decide everything from admissions and eligibility standards for athletes to the nature of academic programs and the shape of the curriculum. This collaboration has enabled institutions of higher learning to develop distinctive organizational forms, responsive to the demands of educating young people and to the requirements of innovation and creativity. The only way such collaborations work is if faculty members feel free to speak their minds without fear of reprisals from higher university authorities.

Surely the Regents of the University of Minnesota do not wish to curtail either the academic freedom of inquiry or the level of faculty participation in governance which are the hallmarks of the American university and which are dependent on the tenure system? Yet the Regents' proposals would effectively destroy tenureand the benefits it confers to our societyby diluting the conditions of tenure through salary reductions, suspensions and performance reviews, all characterized by equivocal and largely unarticulated criteria and serious restrictions on the fundamental principles of due process and peer review.

Surely too, the Regents do not wish to eviscerate the great University of Minnesota. Yet the effect of the proposed changes to the terms and conditions of teaching, research and governance for faculty members will remove Minnesota from the ranks of the nation's great universities. Such changes also would amount to "unilateral disarmament." Your best and most mobile faculty members will be recruited away by other institutions, eager to enhance their own status by adding stars from your institution. In the process, the University of Minnesota's academic standing will wither away. The University of Pennsylvania would mourn the loss of a worthy competitor. The ranks of the nation's premier research institutions will be diminished by the loss of one whose character cannot be replicated elsewhere.

It is my fervent hope that the overwhelmingly critical reactions you have been receiving from thoughtful academic leaders throughout the nation will leave the Regents in no doubt about these adverse consequences. I hope and trust they will lead you to reconsider your ill advised revisions of Minnesota's long-standing tenure policies.

Sincerely yours,

Peter J. Kuriloff, Chair, Faculty Senate

cc: President Nils Hasselmo


Volume 43 Number 8
October 15, 1996

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