Regents want faculty to resolve differences over severance policy

Long-discussed revision likely to culminate at January 2012 board meeting

With Faculty Council members still divided over proposed changes to the university's policy regarding severance pay for dismissed faculty, the Laws and Policies Committee of the Board of Regents has granted the council more time before taking action.

At the Wednesday, April 27, meeting of the committee, regents James Geddes, Tilman "Tillie" Bishop and Michael Carrigan agreed to not bring the issue before the full board until its January meeting. The committee gave Faculty Council representatives a deadline that coincides with the next meeting of the laws and policies committee, immediately prior to the board meeting, presumably in December or January. Earlier in the meeting, Geddes, the committee chair, had indicated a preference to resolve the matter at the board's June meeting.

"We are tiring of this," Geddes told faculty representatives, who were asked to "get on the same page."

"The next time you come in, I'm not going to listen to anyone rebut what you say the faculty recommendation is."

"That's fair," said Mark Malone, chair of the Faculty Council.

The discussion that's had a long, twisting history pertains to the current Board of Regents policy stating that "teachers on continuous appointment who are dismissed for reasons not involving moral turpitude should receive their salaries for at least a year from the date of notification of dismissal whether or not they are continued in their duties at the institution ..."

In recent years, some regents have expressed desire to eliminate that portion of the policy.

In February, the Faculty Council Educational Policies and University Standards (EPUS) Committee recommended changing the current language to: "The faculty panel on Privilege and Tenure may recommend, in consideration of mitigating circumstances, that the CU Regents vote affirmatively to give one year of severance pay to the faculty member dismissed for cause ..."

But campus faculty assemblies decided such language ceded too much ground. After the board didn't address the issue at its February meeting, Malone went before the regents in March and asked them to delay any decision until the faculty representatives had more time to work on the language.

Besides Geddes' expression of impatience, Malone and other faculty representatives at last week's meeting faced criticism from Bishop and Regent Steve Bosley, not a current committee member but one who worked with faculty on the issue when it arose in 2007.

"What we're being told is this board and future boards can't be trusted with this decision, that we couldn't be trusted to look at each situation as a different situation," Bosley said. "That's disappointing. There has not been a history of abuse.

"To say that this is a breakdown of the tenure process leaves me a bit puzzled."

Bruce Neumann, secretary of the Faculty Council, replied, "I don't think it's a matter of trust, it's a matter of holding up similar employment terms that faculty members see at other universities." Neumann has been critical of how the council and campus-based faculty assemblies communicated with one another as the matter drew closer to regent consideration.

Faculty and regents alike pointed to the rarity of such cases addressed by the policy – only four faculty members have been dismissed with cause in university history.

"It seems we're looking for a problem to give a solution to," Bishop said by phone. "I think we provide due process for faculty and staff upon dismissal."

Committee members indicated at least one part of the current wording is bound to be removed – "at least" as it pertains to the year's severance. Both Geddes and Carrigan called a suggestion to maintain that language "a nonstarter," with Geddes predicting such a motion would be defeated unanimously by the full board.

On Thursday, April 28, at the Faculty Council's regular meeting, Malone called the previous day's meeting "a success, quite the positive step," noting that the committee members were open to the idea of allowing a year's severance for faculty dismissed for cause when there are mitigating circumstances, such as deteriorating mental health.

"I don't think we could have come away with a better outcome," said Council Member David Thompson, while Ravinder Singh of EPUS said, "The sense I came away with was, 'Let's move forward with it.'"

In other action at last week's Laws and Policies Committee meeting, the members voted unanimously to forward a suggested student policy revision to the full board for consideration. Geddes wants the board to receive reports from each campus on recent student suspensions and expulsions.

Geddes said as many as 10 students at CU-Boulder have been expelled over the past year, and that "taking action of that gravity is life-changing and a very considerable punitive action." The proposed policy calls for a confidential report to the regents summarizing facts and circumstances leading to suspensions and "specific justification for each such action." The report would be made each Jan. 1 and July 1.

"We have delegated the responsibilities of those decisions to the chancellor and he delegates to other folks in administration. This does not change that at all," Geddes said. "This is not meant to have regents involved in actual decisions that are leading up to the decision to expel a student, but only for review at a subsequent time."

Intercampus Student Forum Chair Jack Kroll said students already sit on every committee that's part of reviews for suspensions and expulsions, so he was "confused as to why the board would want to see this information."

"You don't have confidence in the administration, faculty and staff to address these concerns? ... Why in such a public setting would we want to go through the process of drudging up ill doings (of students)?"

Geddes said he only is requesting "oversight" by the board, and that the reports would be reviewed confidentially in executive session.

Carrigan told Geddes he voted in favor of the proposed policy because he wants the full Board of Regents to have the opportunity to discuss it, but added he might not vote favorably at that time.