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John Carroll University Professors Outraged Over Loss Of Tenure Protections

The John Carroll University Board of Directors voted to amend its Faculty Handbook on Monday, eliminating tenure protections in time of financial hardship for the school. [Ida Lieszkovszky / ideastream]
John Carroll University Campus

John Carroll University faculty members are outraged after the school’s board of directors voted Monday to eliminate tenure protections.  

The board pointed to financial “hardships” as the rationale for removing the protections from the university’s faculty handbook. Described as a “scalpel” approach, individual John Carroll faculty members can be fired without cause when the administration projects an annual budget deficit of 6 percent along with two additional years of budgetary “hardship.” Those terminated will not be able to appeal their firing.

Marcus Gallo, a John Carroll associate professor of history, called the board’s decision “crushing.”

With tenure, faculty members feel protected in the classroom and in conducting research, because “you have the sense that if you address a controversial topic, the University has your back,” Gallo told ideastream Tuesday.

“It's crushing to academic freedom. And it's a betrayal. No one would have applied for these tenure-track jobs if these weren't tenure-track jobs,” he said. “Essentially, it's a bait-and-switch. You know, you come here, you get tenure and tenure is not worth much.”

According to a statement from John Carroll faculty, terminations were previously reserved for academic reasons, such as the elimination of an entire department, or in cases of ‘financial exigency,’ a much more serious financial emergency.

“The JCU faculty have proposed multiple ways of addressing the University’s financial challenges, including salary reductions, benefit reductions, increased workloads, and passed their own comprehensive counterproposal that addressed the Board’s goals while preserving tenure. Faculty made clear they would accept almost any proposal that did not include firing tenured faculty members without cause,” the statement said.

In September, William Donnelly, chairman of the board of directors, wrote a letter to faculty saying “it is critical that the institution and its leaders have the tools necessary to address financial challenges in a timely and thoughtful manner. The tools currently available to the institution are insufficient.”

Faculty said at that time they were told the handbook amendments are needed to fix budget shortfalls related to the pandemic and declining student enrollment. According to its restructuring plan, John Carroll faces a $20 million budget deficit.  The university eliminated its art history department in August.

In a Tuesday email to ideastream, the university said the changes to the employee handbook will allow the school and board of directors to “address structural cost issues in a less severe way than eliminating entire programs or departments, a harsher provision found in the current Faculty Handbook.”

“The Board incorporated many faculty suggestions in revising the amendments over multiple meetings, including additional protections to prioritize tenured faculty positions. The Board will continue to comply with the provisions for amending the Handbook and will continue to communicate with faculty going forward,” the university statement said.

Brent Brossman, a professor in the Communications Department and chairman of John Carroll’s faculty council, expressed concern about how the changes will affect the university’s standing nationwide, adding that the decision to remove tenure protections will disincentivize new faculty from taking positions at the 135-year-old private Catholic university.

“If you are and do have opportunities to go elsewhere, why wouldn't you? I mean, I’d want to have my tenure protection. So it’s an absolute incentive for faculty to leave and it’s an absolute disincentive for new faculty to come in,” Brossman said. “Nationally, the AAUP [American Association of University Professors] reviewed this and said it's this combination of budgetary hardship and the ‘scalpel’ approach to tenure where they can remove individual faculty members from departments without cause. It's just unheard of. No one else is doing that. And it is a blight on our program right now.”

Dianna Taylor, a philosophy professor and vice president of John Carroll’s AAUP chapter, expressed concern over the impact the board’s decisions will have on faculty morale.  

“One of the things that's been a positive about this whole experience is that the faculty have come together and been extremely united in our stance against what the board has been wanting to do and has now done And I think we will maintain that solidarity,” Taylor told ideastream.

On March 10, the school’s board of directors will vote on the faculty’s counterproposal for dealing with the university’s financial hardship. In the meantime, John Carroll faculty said they will bring the fight to restore tenure to the public for more support.

The changes to the John Carroll University Faculty Handbook will go into effect next fall.

Jenny Hamel is the host of the “Sound of Ideas.”