The following message was sent to all faculty today.
I know many of you are concerned about issues raised this morning by NC Policy Watch concerning a tenure decision made by the Board of Trustees. The remarks I made to the Board of Trustees this afternoon follow.
In addition, I want to share this link to a statement that faculty in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media released regarding this issue.
My best to all,
Mimi V. Chapman, MSW, PhD
Chair of the Faculty
Frank A. Daniels Distinguished Professor for Human Service Policy Information
Associate Dean for Doctoral Education
School of Social Work
Trustee Duckett and other Members of the Board:
As always, I thank you for having me today. It is good to be with you. Today I want to speak with you about your decision to override a faculty recommendation regarding tenure. Before I do that, I want you to know that I spoke with Ms. Hannah-Jones yesterday to ask her permission to speak about this issue knowing that it is linked to personnel information that is hers alone to speak about. She gave me that permission.
Tenure decisions are never made lightly, and I’d like to briefly take you through the amount of faculty time that is devoted to any one tenure decision. First, letters are solicited from faculty members at other universities. Usually between four and six letters are solicited. Those faculty members, at other institutions, review a candidate’s file and compose a letter outlining strengths and weaknesses. When I do this type of review for other universities, it usually takes me at least two full days of work to complete the process. Six letters x 2, eight-hour days = 16 hours per letter x 6 = 96 hours of faculty time, which includes faculty from other universities; they help us as we help them. Next the full professors in a school or department review and come together to discuss a candidate. Let’s imagine, conservatively, that there are 10 full professors that meet to discuss. They each likely spend three hours reading the letters above and reviewing the candidate’s file prior to that meeting. 10 professors X 3 hours, plus meeting time = 32 hours. Next the file goes to the Appointments, Promotions, and Tenure Committee, a 12-member, elected committee that meets monthly for two to three hours. Each file is reviewed by a sub-committee of those twelve, in addition to a review from the whole group. Again, conservatively, it takes at least 3 hours or so to review one file. 12 members x 3 hours for one file = 36 hours. At that point, a final recommendation is made to the Provost about tenure for a given candidate. My back-of-the-envelope, conservative calculation means that approximately 164 hours of faculty time go into any one tenure decision. Divided by 8, that gets us to 20 plus, 8-hour days of faculty work for any one tenure decision. That excludes the time of the dean or department chair, staff time, and the time of the Chancellor and the Provost.
I recognize that it is your right to over-ride a tenure recommendation and I can even imagine instances in which that might be a positive step. For instance, if some set of facts came to light after an extensive faculty review that colors the candidate’s fitness—commission of a serious crime, learning that someone’s work is plagiarized, or some other set of circumstances, something that was unknown to the faculty when the review was done. In such circumstances, we would all be grateful that there was a final check on the candidate’s fitness. But the concerns that are rumored to have been the cause of this particular tenure decision—does she have adequate teaching experience, she’s not coming from an academic background, etc. —make no sense as a reason to take an action that does such damage to the relationship between the trustees and the faculty. To take this decision, is to say to the faculty—intentionally or not—that our expertise, our judgement, our devotion to this institution, and indeed our time is not something you value. And to receive this message after a year like we have all had, in which we have gone to extraordinary lengths to respond to student needs, keep our research going, keep our own families healthy and whole, is devastating and demoralizing.
Most everyone on this campus could be somewhere else. We could be at a private university with better benefits, better pay, better retirement plans, and the list goes on. Most of us are here because we love this University and all it stands for. We love being of the public, for the public. We love serving students from every corner of the state, nation, and all over the globe. We believe in the mission this University has to solve big problems, take on challenges that others shy away from, and indeed one of those challenges is confronting the history, legacies, and enduring proliferation of oppression and racism in this country. We will never be able to put such problems to rest until we wrestle with them honestly and we need faculty members who speak to us in new ways to shake up our thinking and help us do that.
Finally, I want you to know that I speak to you as a great granddaughter and grand-niece of confederate soldiers. My father, who died this year at 99 years of age, lived with his Grandpa John, and loved him deeply. But the victory of Grandpa John’s life came, not from sweeping difficult truths under the rug and pretending bygones were bygones. Instead, through his faith—a faith that said “love your neighbor as yourself” and answers the question of “who is my neighbor with the return question of who is not” —he became a peacemaker and devoted himself to knitting his deeply divided community back together. Healing, and indeed light and liberty, lux et libertas, happen through deep listening to those we disagree with, through opening our minds and hearts to history that we don’t know or feels too threatening to believe. As faculty, we cherish these conversations; we are not afraid of them; and we know they make our world a better place over time. When we recommend tenure, we do so with a deep conviction that the person being tenured has ideas and work that are life changing and life affirming, even if that work and those ideas are controversial or difficult to sit with. As Chair of the Faculty, I am inviting you to trust us in the exhaustive work that we do to make tenure recommendations. For me, I would choose to be your partner, and not your adversary. But partnership requires respect and at this moment, the faculty is not feeling that.
As always, I am happy to speak with you here, by phone, or now that I am fully vaccinated over coffee about any of your concerns or anything you would like to talk about regarding faculty life at UNC. Thank you for your kind attention.