Lincoln University curators reinstate tenure, promotions

This Feb. 5, 2015, file photo shows a student crossing the pedestrian bridge near Page Library on the Lincoln University campus.

Lincoln University Curators this month approved promotions for five professors and tenure for four others - ending a two-month stay on granting changes in job status.

Many in the audience attending the June 8 board meeting applauded when the announcement was made.

And Lincoln math professor Stephanie Clark, the incoming Faculty Senate chair, told the News Tribune last week: "The Board of Curators' recent approval of the current promotion and tenure applications for our faculty is very encouraging - with the assumption that the promotions granted will include the small, but meaningful, pay increases as outlined in our Rules and Regulations."

Facing financial uncertainties this spring, while lawmakers continued to debate a state budget with serious cuts to all of higher education, LU's curators voted in April to block promotions, tenure and sabbatical requests.

Board President Marvin Teer said then: "In light of all of the changes that we are being forced to necessarily shepherd, it's really ill-advised to even consider these at this time."

President Kevin Rome also explained in April: "We're being pretty much mandated by the state to reduce. A sabbatical is needed for faculty, but some people would say, 'Is it essential at this particular time?'

"For tenure and promotion, it's difficult to (approve) when you may be in a position where you're going to have to eliminate some positions."

Teer also said in April: "I'm sure that (promotion and tenure) will play a significant role in the future, and we will be happy to revisit and entertain those requests and those suggestions."

The June 8 vote came in a closed session, where the board considered the pending applications as a personnel issue - the traditional way for handling them.

The restoration of tenure was announced at the beginning of the open board meeting.

But the decision to reactivate the policy came on the same day curators adopted a budget for the 2017-18 business year that includes a reduction of 48 jobs - including 15.5 faculty positions - and an across-the-board, half-percent pay cut.

Gov. Eric Greitens has not yet signed the budget bills for the business year that begins July 1. But, he can't add money to the lawmakers' appropriations.

The Legislature-passed budget includes a 6.58 percent reduction in the state's core funding for state colleges and universities, including Lincoln.

In the academic world, tenure generally means a teacher has earned a permanent status and can work from one year to the next without signing a new contract.

Critics of the practice say it protects a teacher from being fired, while supporters argue that's not the case, claiming in most institutions, a tenured teacher is entitled to a hearing and the right to challenge the employer's reasons for seeking the teacher's termination.

Lincoln's Rules and Regulations say: "Faculty with tenure may be terminated for cause or under financial exigency," which is similar to a declaration of bankruptcy.

Supporters also argue tenure protects a teacher from the whims of changing administrators - while critics say most other professions don't have those protections and teachers shouldn't either.

In some places, earning tenure is automatic, if a person has been with the same institution for a specific period of time - usually five years.

But at Lincoln and other higher education institutions, tenure must be approved by a higher authority - at LU, the curators.

Lincoln's Rules and Regulations say: "Initial appointment to full-time ranked faculty positions shall be defined in writing as tenure-track or non-tenure track," and outline the steps and procedures an LU teacher must follow to be considered for a promotion or for receiving tenure.

Clark noted: "The promotion and tenure process is not an easy one, and it takes years of dedication to the university, our students, teaching and research."

The rules require an LU teacher be employed at least five years before being considered for tenure.

But the Rules and Regulations also set a limit: "For a tenure-track appointment, (the) maximum length of probation shall be seven years. The contract for the seventh year shall be a one-year terminal contract unless the decision to award tenure has been made."

The curators this month modified that rule because of their April decision, adding "or postponed by act of the Board of Curators" at the end.

Clark told the News Tribune: "It is promising to see that the board recognizes the work our faculty contributes to our school's mission.

"This is an important step to maintain quality education for the students of Lincoln University."

Clark noted Lincoln's students' success "depends on retaining caring and committed faculty to teach the skills needed for our 21st century careers. Lincoln University can retain our experienced faculty when they feel valued - which sets the path for our students to excel (and) which is everyone's goal."