Universities Will Consider Rule Change Making It Easier to Fire Tenured Faculty, Protests Expected


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

North Dakota’s State Board of Higher Education is considering a controversial policy change which may prompt protests.

At issue is section 605.3 of the university system’s policies which state, in part, that tenured faculty “shall be given written notice of termination, including the reason(s) for the action, at least twelve months prior to the date of termination.”

According to a recent agenda (page 6) for the SBHE’s Budget and Finance Committee suggests that this rule “is generally too lengthy to produce cost-savings within a biennium” and a rule changed endorsed by Chancellor Mark Hagerott would reduce the notification period down to 90 days.

An excerpt:

It seems this policy will get a hearing from the full SBHE at their January 26 meeting, with a second hearing to occur at their February 23 meeting.

There is not an agenda released yet for either of those meetings as I write this.

Regardless, this is going to be a hot issue whenever it’s considered. I’m told the SBHE is preparing for protests.

It’s not at all surprising that the SBHE would take this issue up, however. North Dakota’s Legislature is grappling with a big budget problem thanks to falling revenues driven by low commodity prices. Our state also has a new Governor in Doug Burgum who doesn’t just want to move budget line items around but rather fundamentally “reinvent” government to make it more efficient.

He has said he wants our state government to do more with less. He’s talking not just cuts but reform.

In that vein, it seems the SBHE is moving to make its payroll more flexible by reducing the required notice period before tenured faculty can be dismissed.

That seems like responsible reform in keeping with our state’s needs and our Governor’s mandate. In fact, it seems as though the University of North Dakota is already looking to address the cost of tenured faculty. According to an email sent out on campus today, the school is offering buyouts to faculty with tenure.

North Dakota is not the only state considering this sort of policy. Missouri and Iowa are moving to end tenure according to this recent article for Inside Higher Ed, but faculty in those states aren’t taking the proposed reforms well. “This looks like the perfect storm of government and legislative attacks on higher education,” Hans-Joerg Tiede, a senior program officer at the American Association of University Professors, is quoted as saying in the article.

I suspect that’s the position many faculty in North Dakota will take as well, though it’s worth pointing out that in Missouri and Iowa the changes are coming from lawmakers.