Hundreds of West Virginia University faculty members have registered their opposition to proposed policy changes that could alter how they are evaluated, promoted and terminated.
The opposition comes even after WVU officials removed some of the more controversial proposals.
The university nixed a line that would have said faculty members who receive unsatisfactory ratings in two areas in just one year must be recommended for “non-continuation” of employment.
“Must” was also changed to “may” in a section that is now proposed to say that faculty “may” be recommended for noncontinuation for receiving an unsatisfactory rating in any single area (generally, teaching, service or research) either for two years in a row or twice in three consecutive years.
Officials also cut a line that would have said, “Faculty members must engage in behaviors consistent with the university Code of Conduct and university values.”
These values include, “Be an ambassador of WVU and avoid conduct that reflects adversely on the image of the university” and “Respect the decisions that have been made in the best interest of the university.” Some on campus worried linking these to tenure and promotion risked academic freedom.
The policy, if ultimately approved, would spell out evaluation, promotion and termination rules for tenured, tenure track and non-tenure-track faculty.
WVU Faculty Senate chairman Scott Wayne said a ballot was emailed last week to the approximately 2,700 members of the University Assembly, which includes all faculty members and is larger than the Faculty Senate.
Of those 2,700, 715 participated, with 494 voting against passing a resolution generally supporting the policy changes, he said. The remaining 221 backed the resolution.
In an email Monday, WVU spokeswoman April Kaull said, “The university will take into account the results of the vote, as well as additional feedback provided from faculty during this process. We are currently determining next steps, and we hope to further engage faculty in making positive and necessary changes to the current university tenure and promotion and faculty evaluation document.”
The University Assembly’s rejecting the supportive resolution doesn’t require university officials to reverse course.
WVU leaders have bucked the University Assembly before. In fall 2021, the body voted 1,094 to 185 in favor of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students and employees, but the WVU Board of Governors didn’t institute one.
Wayne, who said he over all supports the proposed policy changes, said the University Assembly vote “represents about 26 percent of the total faculty at the university, which is a fairly low participation rate.”
He said the University Assembly has just one regular meeting a year: when the president gives the annual State of the University address.
But Wayne said faculty called this meeting by petition and, in an online meeting Wednesday, surpassed the 680 attendees required for the University Assembly to have a quorum and conduct official business.
A university official, according to Wayne, said, “There is currently a process at WVU that has been used previously in a very small number of cases to terminate tenured faculty who are not performing the very basic responsibilities.”
Wayne said there are two contentious issues in the proposed changes.
“One is around the noncontinuation for unsatisfactory performance, but that essentially is current practice—it’s just that that current practice has not been spelled out clearly,” Wayne said. “So they were simply clarifying those procedures for transparency. And then the other contentious issue is adding that external review for teaching assistant professors applying to teaching associate professor positions.”
Harry Gingold, a WVU math professor for over 40 years, said during Wednesday’s meeting that “The new guidelines are, for all practical purposes, a fast track for termination of tenured and nontenured faculty.”
Gingold said, “Without due process, without respect for guidelines, there is no academic freedom.”
WVU’s tenure and promotion policy was last updated in 2014–15. Working with the provost’s office, a group of administrators and faculty members called the Faculty Rewards and Recognition Committee began working on the current draft in early 2021.
Shauna Johnson, another university spokesperson, previously told Inside Higher Ed, “One of the overall goals is to expand the definition of what counts in teaching, research and service—including such areas as public, community-engaged and multidisciplinary scholarship and social justice work that impact and engage a variety of external audiences. We believe this will lead to a more inclusive approach by recognizing a wider range of contributions made by faculty.”
Aric Agmon, a neuroscience professor who said he’s been with WVU for over 25 years, said during Wednesday’s meeting, “What we have in front of us is an attractive package, beautifully wrapped in verbiage about social justice, equity and transparency. However, inside, far from transparent, lurks a poison pill: a new mechanism to terminate any faculty, whether tenured or not.”
He said this was rife with “the potential for misinterpretation and misuse. With this mechanism in place, our cherished tenure system, and our even more cherished academic freedom, are in mortal danger.”