Georgia’s higher ed system OKs new tenure policies. Faculty fear they will harm the treasured concept.

Dive Brief: 

  • The University System of Georgia’s governing board approved policies Wednesday that some faculty members say will undermine tenure across the state’s public colleges and universities.  
  • The new policies will make it easier for tenured faculty members to be dismissed for reasons other than what are typical grounds for removal or if they don’t improve unsatisfactory performance after a post-tenure review. 
  • The changes drew admonishment from the American Association of University Professors, a faculty group. They also sparked protests during board meetings this week, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported

Dive Insight: 

The new policies stem from a working group formed last year to evaluate post-tenure review polices to “ensure all faculty remain productive throughout their careers,” according to the system. That committee released recommendations this summer, some of which were approved this week. 

The changes drew ire from faculty members and the AAUP, which says they will result in a “severely compromised” tenure system across Georgia’s public colleges. 

It’s one of several recent episodes in higher education where observers have worried about the erosion of tenure and academic freedom. In some cases, politicians and system governing boards have attempted to exercise more control over what can be taught in college classrooms or who receives tenure. And in other instances, colleges under financial duress have disregarded their own policies to cut positions and programs, according to the AAUP

The AAUP said Tuesday that its executive director, Julie Schmid, would authorize an investigation into the Georgia system if the board adopted the changes. The AAUP took similar action against the Virginia Community College System in 1974 after it abolished tenure, it said.

The organization will hold a meeting next week to formally approve the investigation, said Greg Scholtz, director of the AAUP’s academic freedom, tenure and governance department. 

Under the changes in Georgia, professors with substandard performance will be subject to an improvement plan. If they don’t make sufficient progress, then their institution could take action against them including suspending their pay, removing their tenure status or terminating them. 

The AAUP took aim at this provision in a letter last month explaining its opposition to the system’s proposed changes. “While it cannot be said to do away with tenure entirely, it certainly moves in that direction by making it possible to dismiss a tenured faculty member — without affordance of academic due process — for failing to fulfill the terms of an imposed performance improvement plan,” it said. 

The organization noted that it has historically opposed post-tenure review, arguing the process undermines the security tenure affords. 

Policy changes allowing faculty members to be fired during the review process for reasons outside of what the system lists as grounds for removal severely harm tenure and academic freedom, the AAUP argued last month. 

Another policy change will require professors to be measured on student success during their post-tenure reviews. System officials say that element is key to improving student outcomes, the Journal-Constitution reported.  

Matthew Boedy, president of the AAUP’s Georgia conference and an English professor at the University of North Georgia, said in an email that the changes have “dynamited” tenure. “The Regents sent the university system — in their own words, a highly regarded system — over a cliff no one has crossed like this before,” he said. 

The changes also drew concern from prominent figures on Twitter. 

Stacey Abrams, a voting rights activist and Democrat who is a former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, tweeted Wednesday morning that the state will not be able to compete for talent if it undermines tenure policies. And Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who recently underwent a public battle for tenure at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, called the changes “unbelievable” in a post ahead of the vote. 

A system spokesperson did not immediately respond to Higher Ed Dive’s request for comment.