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University system, SBHE mull changes to tenure policy

Potential changes to the North Dakota University System's tenure policy have been delayed after faculty questioned the proposal's financial impact. The change would give the State Board of Higher Education discretion to allow incoming, out-of-sys...

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Chancellor Mark Hagerott of the North Dakota University System. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

Potential changes to the North Dakota University System's tenure policy have been delayed after faculty questioned the proposal's financial impact.

The change would give the State Board of Higher Education discretion to allow incoming, out-of-system presidents and deans to keep tenure they had previously earned at another institution. Presidents would get the tenure if they decided to return to the classroom and teach after being in the leadership position.

The policy had its second reading during the Oct. 25 SBHE meeting and garnered lengthy discussion among board members and faculty members throughout the university system.

The proposal is meant to treat "outsiders" the same way the system treats "insiders," NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott said during the meeting. It would give the board the option to continue the tenure if they deemed fit, but the policy would not require it, he said.

The topic of tenure has been brought up during recent presidential searches, said Lisa Johnson, interim vice chancellor for academic and student affairs. Presidents have mentioned they believe recognizing out-of-system tenure was fairly common in other states, she said.

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Birgit Pruess, who serves as faculty advisor to the board, said professors had concerns over the potential financial impact the policy would have given the budget outlook.

At a recent faculty council meeting, all 11 institutions agreed the policy could negatively affect faculty and departments, specifically the smaller campuses, because it potentially could cause financial burdens, Council of College Faculty President Debora Dragseth said. Typically, tenure is paid out by the specific department for which the professor works.

"We also felt that an (existing) faculty member that wasn't quite tenured yet might lose his or her job to make room for that president," she said.

Dragseth also brought up additional concerns the council had with the policy, including whether a president, who may have been out of the field for several years, would be ready to teach in an ever-changing environment. The council also questioned what the dynamic would be like between a former president and faculty after the president stepped down or was removed, then entered the classroom as an educator, she said.

Tenure shouldn't be thought of as a perk, as it is earned by professors with at least seven years of experience in their fields, Dragseth said.

Brian Van Horn, president of Mayville State University, said he has gone through the tenure process, and he believes being tenured gives a educators more credibility.

It's also fairly rare for presidents to return to teaching, and the tenure could go through a different budgeting process, he said.

Board chairman Don Morton said he believes the policy shows "great respect" for the tenure process.

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"If it helps us attract a higher caliber candidate, that's a real plus," he said.

Attracting tenured faculty is also a plus for North Dakota and the campus where they work, he said.

The board should take time to talk with the Council of College faculty members to make sure the policy is not only good for recruiting presidents but also does not burden faculty, board member Casey Ryan said.

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