Profs blast proposal to weaken tenure at U of Arkansas

Several scholars are pushing back against policy changes that would make it possible to fire tenured University of Arkansas faculty for “unwillingness to work productively with colleagues.”

The change to the UA system Board of Trustees tenure policy was submitted to the Faculty Senate in late October, and includes a controversial provision that expands the list of justifications, or “cause,” for terminating employment.

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“Cause is defined as conduct that demonstrates the faculty member lacks the willingness or ability to perform duties or responsibilities to the University,” the proposed policy reads, noting that tenured faculty can be disciplined or dismissed for eight core reasons, including “unsatisfactory performance” and demonstrating a “pattern of disruptive conduct or unwillingness to work productively with colleagues.”

University spokesman Nate Hinkel told The Chronicle of Higher Education that the proposed language is part of an effort to align the broader policy with "current law and best practices."

Critics of the provision, however, argue that the new language is too broad and constitutes an attack on the academic freedom of professors who may hold contrarian political viewpoints.

“I think this is an awful change,” UA Little Rock law professor Josh Silverstein told Campus Reform. “The proposed revisions dramatical increase the power of the university to terminate tenured faculty. And the changes also limit the scope of academic freedom in ways that will both silence faculty and create additional potential grounds for dismissal should faculty speak out on issues of public policy and on matters internal to the university.”

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Silverstein, who describes himself as a liberal, argued that “minorities are the ones most often harmed” when “university administrations consolidate power” and weaken tenure.

“And I mean minorities in every sense—racial minorities, religious minorities, political minorities, and women, for example,” he added, predicting that conservative faculty members could be among the first targets.

The professor, who has also publicly challenged the provision in extensive memos to his colleagues, explained that since “conservatives are a political minority in higher education,” the proposed changes “will be more damaging to conservatives than to liberals.”

“And while conservatives are in the minority,” Silverstein observed, “there are many conservatives on the faculties throughout the University of Arkansas system that will end up in the crosshairs.”

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Robert Steinbuch, another UA law professor who previously sued the university for failing to provide race-based admissions data for his research, was equally critical of the proposed policy changes.

“My research, teaching, and service were all attacked because I had the temerity to use hard data to demonstrate that the left's dogma regarding law-school admissions doesn't line up with reality,” the professor said in an email to Campus Reform. “Imagine what would have happened under the proposed policy.”

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In addition to current faculty, former UA Little Rock Law Professor Richard Peltz-Steele also condemned the proposed policy language, arguing that it “threatens faculty academic freedom.”

“Faculty are expected to toe the line and make the widgets,” Peltz-Steele, currently a professor at the University of Massachusetts School of Law, wrote on his blog, as first reported by The Chronicle. “That's a frightening vision of the university, especially when one contemplates the impact on young adults of modeling [autonomous] obedience in a purported democracy.

The University of Arkansas System did not immediately respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.

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