Oct 14, 2021 - News

Tenure changes coming to Georgia universities

A black sign with gold lettering positioned at the entrance of the Georgia Tech campus.

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Professors are protesting a controversial policy change approved yesterday by the Board of Regents that they say will give administrators the power to terminate tenured faculty.

  • The policy, critics say, essentially eliminates the concept of tenure — the peer-awarded and peer-reviewed status in higher education that gives professors academic freedom — at 25 public colleges and universities in Georgia.

Why it matters: Tenure can allow faculty to speak freely and present ideas, no matter how controversial, to students, colleagues and the public.

Just as important, says Matthew Boedy, a professor at the University of North Georgia and the president of the American Association of University Professors' Georgia conference, the status affords due process, because tenured faculty are supposed to be reviewed and held accountable by their faculty peers, not administrators.

  • The opportunity for tenure helps attract academic talent to the state, which in turn helps educate a future workforce.
  • The practice has come increasingly under fire from conservative officials in recent years, including attempted bans in Iowa and Missouri.

Context: Last year, the regents, the governing body of Georgia's public college and university system, formed a working group to reexamine the post-tenure review process — the first time since 1996, a university spokesperson says.

  • Language introduced last month that professors and academic advocates said would have allowed administrators to fire tenured faculty without cause was removed after pushback.
  • More than 1,500 university system faculty members have signed a petition protesting the overhaul.

Details: Under the new policy, professors who have back-to-back unsatisfactory administrative reviews could choose to follow an improvement plan developed by the department chair, dean and the faculty member.

  • If they do not show improvement, they risk seeing a drop in salary or losing tenure or even their job.
  • Previously, tenured professors could be fired only for reasons related to "professional fitness," the AAUP says, and only after a hearing before a faculty body.

What they're saying: The change is intended to "promote faculty development and accountability as well as to align these with our mission of student success," says Regent Erin Hames, according to the AJC.

  • Boedy tells Axios that "The Regents sent the university system — in their own words, a highly regarded system — over a cliff no one has crossed like this before. … Statewide faculty are in shock, still not quite sure why the group of people who claim to care for the reputation of the university system just ruined it."

What's next: Prior to the vote, the AAUP had threatened to launch an investigation if the regents carried through with the policy change. That could be followed with formal censure of Georgia's university system.


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