Ohio college faculty could face more scrutiny in proposed law

Tenured faculty at Ohio’s public universities could face state mandated evaluations and minimum teaching requirements if bills in the statehouse become law.

There is currently no state statute dictating requirements or evaluations for tenure but if House Bill 66 is becomes law, it would require tenured professors to teach a minimum of three credit hours per semester.

“It’s an attack on faculty,” said John McNay, president of the Ohio chapter of the American Association of University Professors and a history professor at the University of Cincinnati. “The whole thing is very puzzling.”

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Up to 20 percent of professors per academic program would be eligible for an exemption to the teaching requirement if the university agrees that a faculty member is “significantly better suited to research.” Exempted faculty and the program chair would have to submit a written report outlining how the faculty member would alternatively contribute to the “undergraduate mission.”

When faculty join a university’s administration they often retain a faculty spot, meaning the bill could force university presidents and other high leaders back into the classroom. The idea of administrators teaching and running the school at the same time is a bad idea, McNay said.

“We need these people to actually be able to focus on their job,” McNay said.

The bill, which is before the house’s higher education and workforce development committee, would also implement standards for annual performance reviews, according to an analysis of the legislation.

Each university is currently responsible for providing their own guidelines and requirements to tenured professors, the bill’s sponsor Ron Young told the committee. Young, R-Leroy Twp., could not be reached to comment.

“We took a step back and looked at what was the purpose of our higher education system and tenure in general and decided to take a holistic approach,” Young said in testimony to the committee last week.

Faculty who fail to show their contribution to the “undergraduate mission” would be subject to a remediation program.

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After the first infraction, a faculty member and department head would need to develop corrective plan, according to a bill summary. Tenured faculty who fail two reviews in a row would be prohibited from taking sabbatical, participating in any “faculty improvement program” and be blocked from requesting a reduction in teaching schedule, according to bill summary. A third infraction would allow the university to revoke tenure.

The proposals are a reflection of a false notion that tenured faculty cannot be fired, said McNay.

“There’s this impression that once you have this job, you have it for life,” McNay said. “That’s simply not true.”

Faculty who are on medical or personal leave, on active duty in the U.S. armed forces or are involved in a faculty exchange program would not be subject to an annual review, according to an analysis of the bill.

House Bill 49, the state budget proposal that passed the house on May 2, would require the board of trustees at state institutions to update their policies on faculty tenure. The goal of forcing colleges to review their policies is to “promote excellence in instruction, research, service and commercialization,” according to an analysis of the proposal.

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State leaders are considering the tenure requirements to “ensure that our students have the best teaching faculty,” said State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., who is vice chairman of the higher education and workforce development committee.

“There should be a system of accountability at our universities that benefit our students,” Antani said.

McNay fears that such state mandated requirements would strip unions of their negotiating powers while Antani is worried new laws could have the opposite effect and result in “increased unionization.”

If the bills become law, they would not affect contracts already in place but would have an impact on future agreements.

Provisions that would be required by the bills, such as workloads and reviews, are typically always part of contract negotiations, said Martin Kich, president of Wright State University’s AAUP chapter and vice president of the Ohio conference. Wright State’s faculty union is in the middle of a contract negotiation right now.

“In every contract there’s already a provision for tenure review,” Kich said. “It’s not like you’re just guaranteed this job forever.”

Continuing coverage

For further coverage of these state proposals that could impact tenured faculty, head to DaytonDailyNews.com. Also, follow our higher education reporter on Twitter at @MaxFilby and on Facebook at facebook.com/MaxFilbyDDN.

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