Georgia’s public university system has recently come under fire because of a new policy approved by the system’s board of regents on October 13.
The policy, touted as a way to ensure high faculty performance, has drawn criticism from teacher rights groups across the region and has been called the “death” of the mandate.
Georgia is the first state to adopt such a measure and there is currently no movement towards a similar policy in Tennessee. However, in 2018, UT’s outgoing board of directors implemented a ‘Post-Promotion Periodic Review’ (PPPR), which mandated an additional set of performance reviews every five to six years in addition to the existing system of annual reviews and, where necessary, improved reviews, usually triggered by annual assessments.
PPPR is unpopular with faculty, not only on the Knoxville campus but across UT systems, and is viewed as redundant. The Faculty Senate denounced politics when it was first implemented and efforts are underway to reverse the decision. Controversy around PPPR has arisen again following Georgia’s shutdown, although PPPR is not as broad as Georgian politics.
“By instituting PPPR, the UT board has taken a step towards a process similar to that which Georgia has put in place,” said Louis Gross, professor of ecology and current president of the faculty’s Senate. from UT. “But, there are inherent protections built into the PPPR which as far as I know are not implemented in Georgia.”
The Faculty’s Senate has yet to discuss or release a statement regarding the matter, and Gross has spoken as an individual faculty member.
While it is uncertain whether Tennessee will follow Georgia’s lead, the prospect of tenure degradation in Tennessee is still a looming fear for faculty. One of the biggest concerns is what this type of policy would mean for academic freedom.
“Academic freedom “ refers to faculty capacities to teach and conduct research without fear of reprisal from university administrations, governments and other powerful entities. Tenure contracts protect professors who have them, but non-tenured and tenured teachers – those working on tenure but have not yet achieved it – teachers do not have these protections.
Mary McAlpin, professor of French and chair of the UT section of the American Association of University Teachers, said if Tennessee adopted a policy similar to Georgia’s, full professors would face the same lack. academic freedom than non-tenured professors.
“Whatever the administration may say about protecting academic freedom of expression … the lived reality of not having tenure means that (non-tenured) professors are reluctant to talk about issues such as tenure. increasing class size, low wages and, above all, politically. pressure on curriculum or other issues, ”McAlpin said.
According to Jon Shefner, a sociology professor and longtime member of the United Campus Workers (UCW) chapter in eastern Tennessee, when tenure is weakened, professors lose their ability to work against powerful interests.
“This is not just a matter of academic freedom, but endangers the possibility of doing research that goes against the interests of those with strong economic interests to harm society,” Shefner said.
“Think about the power of the big tobacco companies and how many more people would have died of cancer if they could have quashed the important research that linked tobacco to cancer, or if they were able to quash social science research.” which helped articulate the dangers of tobacco for consumers.
There is currently little to no support from UT faculty to change the current state of tenure in Tennessee to resemble the changes in Georgia.
“Georgia is undermining the very meaning of tenure and abandoning the important concept of shared governance,” McAlpin said. “University administrators are first and foremost faculty members who must make decisions in close consultation with their fellow faculty members, otherwise the university becomes fully embedded in the business model. “
Professors fear that removing tenure will open up the possibility for researchers to be fired for work that threatens those who hold political or financial power. Shefner said if Tennessee implements a twin policy, UCW will fight it.
“There is no reason to adopt a process like Georgia Tech’s, which threatens to be punitive and effectively erase the warrant,” Shefner said. “UCW is ready to fight such a policy if it is proposed here in Tennessee.”