Wednesday, May 12, 2010

UNLV's program review, from the NFA perspective

For several weeks, while I was chairing the Presidential Review Committee, I refrained from commenting publicly on the process. With the report and presidential recommendations now public, I would like to address this process from the standpoint of the NFA and the AAUP.

It is always a matter of the utmost concern for NFA when a faculty member is to be terminated involuntarily, and according to Budget Reduction Summary released by President Smatresk on Monday, the recommendations he is making to the Board of Regents will likely result in the termination of 31 full-time academic faculty or professional staff and the reassignment of 30 full-time tenured faculty.

With the fate of these 61 individuals in mind, it is worth considering whether the NFA can reaffirm that this process of program review has, to this point, comformed to legal requirements and to academic best practices. These are set forth, respectively, in the provisions of the NSHE Code (II.4.5.6 - II.4.5.7), UNLV by-laws (article 19.2 and 19.8), and as importantly, to the AAUP recommended best practices for a program review, Recommended Institutional Regulations 4.d.1-2.

The AAUP guidelines of academic best practices allow for the "termination" of faculty positions only in the case of "bona fide formal discontinuance of a program or department of instruction" not merely a program reduction. In other words, program review should not be a basis for the termination of particular faculty from within an ongoing academic program. 

When positions are to be terminated, the AAUP recommends the following provisions:

1. The decision to discontinue formally a program or department of instruction will be based essentially upon educational considerations, as determined primarily by the faculty as a whole or an appropriate committee thereof.

(The guidelines further specify that "educational considerations" refers to "long-range judgments [about] the educational mission of the institution," and not merely "cyclical or temporary variations in enrollment.")

In UNLV's program review, this determination was made by two faculty committees, the Presidential Review Committee which had six of eleven members, including the chair, elected by the Senate, and the New Program and Priority Committee composed entirely of faculty.  The PRC reviewed a wide range of indicators of performance, far beyond enrollment, and over a period ranging back five years and projected forward three years, to ensure that these were "long-range judgements" about "educational mission," not merely financial considerations or short-term assessments of enrollment.

2. Before the administration issues notice to a faculty member of its intention to terminate an appointment because of formal discontinuance of a program or department of instruction, the institution will make every effort to place the faculty member concerned in another suitable position.

This process of reassignment of faculty is expected to begin once the Board of Regents approves the recommended program eliminations in June. At that time, the president and provost, in consultation with the New Program and Priority Committee of the Senate, will seek to place qualified faculty in other suitable programs or needed openings elsewhere in the University.

Priority in this process is given to tenured faculty, under provision 4.c.3 of these same guidelines. This guideline is not to disregard the importance of untenured faculty but to ensure the institution respects the principle of tenure and the rights of those who have earned that status. The UNLV administration's commitment to honor tenure rights by reassigning tenured faculty from terminated programs is an important element of our view that the process does conform to academic best practices.

3. A faculty member may appeal a proposed relocation or termination resulting from a discontinuance and has a right to a full hearing before a faculty committee.

This right is also ensured by the NSHE Code (II.5.4.7.g) and UNLV by-laws (19.12.2), which ensure, respectively, a right to request reconsideration and to have that request heard by an Employment Review Committee, one-half of the members to be appointed by the president and one-half (plus the chair) to be chosen by the Faculty Senate. The by-laws specify that no one who was involved in the recommendation to lay off that faculty member may be a member of the Employment Review Committee.

As in any reconsideration process, the NFA does offer informal and (when appropriate) formal legal defense guidance to its members. NFA's legal defense guidelines dictate that any member requesting such assistance be referred to the legal defense committee (formally known in AAUP parlance as "Committee A"), which at UNLV is chaired by Professor Correales of the Law School.

To ensure that there is no appearance of a conflict of interest, and in keeping in the spirit of the UNLV by-laws provision concerning the Employment Review Committee, I as NFA president will recuse myself entirely and take no role in any determination of whether an NFA member will receive informal or formal legal defense from the chapter. All requests for assistance will be handled by the Legal Defense chair.

Of course, I and the NFA chapter will offer all possible assistance, formally or informally, to any faculty member impacted by the program review process. I have asked the administration to provide whatever outplacement referrals or resources are available for faculty who are receive letters of non-reappointment.

I'll close by revisiting a point I made in the introduction to the PRC report. The program review process, as it is being undertaken at UNLV, represents the intersection of two very different developments. One is the transitory, highly unfortunate and profoundly frustrating budget crisis into which the University of Nevada, Las Vegas has been plunged and which makes it impossible for UNLV to continue as before.

The other is the durable, essential, and fundamentally affirming experience of shared academic governance, in which individuals from a range of backgrounds and perspectives, holding different positions and degrees of responsibilities, work collaboratively towards a common end.

It is in the hope that the latter – shared commitment to education and intellectual exploration -- outlasts and defeats the former – economic distress and loss of opportunity – that I agreed to serve on the Presidential Review Committee. While no one is more displeased than I that this Committee had to exist or with  the recommendations it had to make, it is my hope that the process is carried out in an informed, deliberative, serene and constructive manner worthy of professional academics.

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