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'People are trying to leave,' John Carroll professors shocked as board eliminates tenure protections

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Posted at 10:43 PM, Mar 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 10:04:15-05

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio — While John Carroll University may be a small, historic, private college tucked away in University Heights, it has been known to attract students and staff from far beyond the region.

“John Carroll has a special place in my heart,” said Brent Brossmann, an associate professor of communications for 28 years and the chair of faculty council.

But winds of change have swept through the historic campus.

“Many people are trying to leave. We’ve had one professor that’s resigned already,” said Marcus Gallo, an associate professor of history.

John Carroll’s Board of Directors voted Monday to eliminate tenure protections for its faculty starting next fall.

“I got tenured in August of 2020 and my tenure is basically meaningless. I’m tenured in name only,” said Gallo. “Any excellent institution of higher learning is going to have tenure at the core of what you're doing as a professor.”

As of now, tenured staff members can only be fired if their entire department is eliminated or if there is an extreme financial crisis. But with the board’s amendment to the faculty handbook, the university can fire individual tenured employees, without cause, if there is a budgetary hardship.

“They want a lesser standard so that they can eliminate individual professors,” said Gallo.

Brossman said the amendment takes away the protection at the core of tenure.

“They’re saying, from this point forward, any time the budget gets a little rough, we can single out individual faculty members who are tenured and remove them. Other universities don't have that,” he said.

But Gallo said tenure is about more than just putting in the years and job security, it’s about academic freedom.

“It's not really a perk so much as a necessity to really do your job to the best of your ability,” he said. “

Brossman echoed his sentiment.

“It uniquely crushes our academic freedom and our ability to challenge our students, our ability to engage in controversial ideas, our ability to research and get people to perceive things in new ways. That's all threatened if, on an individual level, people can be singled out and terminated,” he said.

Dianna Taylor, a professor of philosophy and also the vice president of John Carroll’s American Association of University Professors said faculty members are united in overturning the amendment.

“I think a lot of us are worried about what John Carol will look like if this actually gets implemented,” she said. “There's no way I would have taken a job at an institution that didn't offer tenure.”

Gallo said this change will not only affect faculty but students and alumni, too.

“You won't be able to attract high-quality faculty. You won't be able to retain high-quality faculty and, ultimately, that kills the brand,” he said. “It’s devastating.”

Tenured professors are fighting this amendment to the faculty handbook through public information. They’ve created the website “Save JCU” to gain public support.

A John Carroll University spokesperson sent this statement to News 5 regarding the board’s recent amendment votes:

"Six months ago, the John Carroll Board proposed three amendments to the Faculty Handbook as one of several strategies aimed at helping JCU operate and compete more effectively in the fast-changing and increasingly competitive world of higher education.

The amendments are designed to update several provisions of the Faculty Handbook, which is outdated, fails to promote fairness and equity, and is not consistent with best practices in higher education. Modeled after similar practices and language found at other universities, including a number of successful Jesuit institutions, the amendments prioritize the retention of tenured positions and the preservation of academic freedom, to which the Board is fully committed. The faculty rejected all three amendments.

The first amendment streamlines the amendment process, while the second establishes a more consistent faculty and staff benefits process. The Board’s goal with the third amendment is to provide a process for academic savings when necessary during times of budgetary hardship. This will help 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 Board believes that one of the most effective ways to preserve tenure and academic freedom and to attract outstanding faculty is to continuously strengthen the University’s academic offerings and overall student experience. This requires the ability to effectively steward the University’s resources for the long term. These amendments, along with many other activities underway, will help accomplish that objective and allow John Carroll to continue delivering on its Jesuit mission to the benefit of our students and the broader community."