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Tenure debate flares up again as SBHE committee nears final proposal – The Dickinson Press

DICKINSON – North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott defended proposed tenure changes being considered by the State Board of Higher Education by highlighting DSU’s role as a dual-mission institution.

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Hagerott reportedly claimed that the university functions as a “community college and tech/trade school,” in addition to being a liberal arts institution.

“To do that you have to have the ability to reprogram money and build new programs,” he explained, raising concerns about “a system of tenure that (creates) long-lived positions, and yet we find ourselves in a period of rapid change.” .”

Hagerott’s statements on the 2018 dual mission appointment come amid ongoing and rekindled debates over academic tenure in North Dakota, where he argued that in order to fulfill its multifaceted role, DSU must have the “ability to reprogram money and build new programs’. He highlighted what he sees as the challenges associated with a tenure system that creates long-lived positions during a period of rapid change.

North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott.  Eric Hylden / Forum News Service file photo

North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service file photo

However, academic leaders at several North Dakota universities and colleges continue to advocate for the importance of tenure, noting that what they say is essential to academic freedom and job security. Opponents of the proposed changes argue that tenure supports the excellence of teaching and research and plays a crucial role in the shared governance of universities.

The topic of tenure has once again returned to the forefront of academic discussions in the state following last year’s narrowly defeated HB1446, a bill aimed at reducing tenure protections at DSU and Bismarck State College.

The 2023 bill, titled the “Tenure with Responsibilities Act,” would have allowed presidents of these two institutions to fire tenured faculty without the faculty committee’s standard review.

The measure, sponsored and authored in part by DSU President Steve Easton and introduced by House Republican Majority Leader Mike Lefor (R-Dickinson), faced strong opposition from public and written testimony at hearings . The State Board of Higher Education ultimately expressed its disapproval after weeks of silence, contributing to the bill’s narrow defeat in the Senate.

Hagerott argued before the Senate on HB1446 that tenure decisions “must remain under the constitutional authority of the board.” Despite the bill’s rejection, the administration has expressed a willingness to work with lawmakers to overhaul the post-term review process and has made good on these statements since last year’s legislative session.

During eight meetings between June 2023 and March 2024, the State Board of Higher Education Ad Hoc Committee examined tenure/post-tenure data and conducted surveys at all NDUS institutions. They found disparities in tenure processes and recommended improvements, including early involvement of campus presidents in faculty reviews and greater consistency across institutions.

Notably, two-year colleges had less rigorous tenure processes, while research institutions demonstrated more robust systems. The committee urged revisions and improvements to the pre-tenure and post-tenure review policies by October 1, 2024, and its implementation should be completed by June 30, 2025.

The campus of the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.  Especially for The Forum.

The campus of the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton. Especially for The Forum.

Their report recommended changes that go well beyond the reforms proposed by HB1446, reducing the percentage of tenured faculty at eleven public institutions from two. The report focused primarily on community colleges, a label Hagerott used when discussing DSU. One key recommendation was to limit the number of tenured faculty to no more than 50% by 2030, a significant change for institutions like the North Dakota State College of Science, where 97% of faculty are currently tenured or on a tenure-track basis. position.

The report includes comparative data from other states in the Upper Midwest, showing that most community colleges have low tenure rates, except in Minnesota, where nearly 100% of two-year college faculty are tenured or on tenure track.

Opinions are divided on the value of tenure.

In a statement to The Press, Easton defended the dual-mission status and the changes at the university.

“Under our dual mission status, we do indeed offer career and technical education presented in ladder programs where students can earn certificates and associate degrees in addition to traditional bachelor’s degrees,” he said. “We have also expanded our offering with a number of master’s courses. We are proud to be able to expand the range of options available to students in our region. In other words: we are doing more than before, and we are proud of that.”

While new policy decisions were unpopular with some faculty, Easton said the deciding factor was the benefit to students.

Badlands Human Service Center Director Jessica Odermann, center, shares his thoughts on behavioral health in southwestern North Dakota as Rep. Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, left, and Dickinson State University President Steve Easton, right, listen.

Rep. Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, left, and Dickinson State University President Steve Easton, right, listen during the panelist portion of the 2022 State of the City on Thursday, Feb. 3, at August House in Dickinson.

Dickinson Press file photo

“In making decisions about the reorganization and new policies, our primary focus is to make DSU the best institution it can be for students and our region. What is best for the students is often also best for the teachers,” he says. “But when the interests of students conflict with those of the faculty, we put the student first. Students, including not only liberal arts students but also career and technical students, are the reason we exist. We will continue to do what is best for them whenever possible.”

Andrew Armacost, the president of the University of North Dakota, saw the matter differently and presented research results to the Board of Higher Education’s Post Tenure Ad-Hoc Committee, showing that tenured faculty members were more likely to embrace innovation.

His research sought to counter the perception that tenured professors are less innovative, arguing that once faculty members become tenured, they become more productive in research and have the freedom to explore diverse interests, leading to greater innovation across disciplines.

In Dickinson, Easton continues to advocate for and implement major reforms at the university, emphasizing the need for rigorous post-tenure reviews during board hearings. At DSU, new faculty contracts include specific production requirements for credits, according to professors, reflecting Easton’s focus on efficiency and responsiveness to student demands.

DSU students protested the possible elimination of arts programs outside President Easton's campus residence.

DSU students from diverse fields, such as theater and band, protested outside President Easton’s residence on campus, denouncing proposed cuts to arts programs.

Manuel Holguin JR / The Dickinson Press

Regarding stakeholder participation in the reforms at the university, Easton said it was a collective effort and meetings and discussions about changes had been held several times.

“As you may recall, Dickinson State implemented a substantial reorganization during the 2023-2024 academic year, along with the adoption of a variety of new or revised policies. Making these decisions is an important part of my responsibility as president of the university. However, I do not make these decisions alone,” he said. “We held several open forums in both the fall and spring semesters, giving faculty and others the opportunity to provide input. The teachers and others also had the option to email me or otherwise communicate their thoughts, and they did so. That input has been taken into account. Indeed, it resulted in several changes to the government’s original reorganization plan and to the original proposed policy.”

As the State Board of Higher Education prepares to finalize its recommendations, the future of tenure in North Dakota remains uncertain. The board’s decisions could significantly reshape faculty employment structures, reflecting a national trend to scrutinize the role of tenure in the modern higher education context.

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