Preventable Claims: Avoiding Tenure Disputes

September 2014 | 0 Comments  Average 0 out of 5

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Achieving tenure is often the pinnacle of a college or university professor’s career, realized after years of hard work, research, and publications. The extensive effort behind a tenure application and the potential for lifetime appointment means denial of these coveted positions can lead to costly claims. Often, these claims allege that the institution failed to adhere to tenure review policies and treat the candidate fairly.

Consider the following case studies, based on UE claims:

  • A tenure-track professor alleged breach of contract following his denial of tenure, which he believed was based on slanderous statements circulating as his case was under review. He stated that he had received positive recommendations from his department, the advisory committee, and review board, and expected to meet the standards for tenure. The institution alleged that there were collegiality issues, and the claim was brought to trial, eventually settling for $95,000 and incurring more than $500,000 in defense costs.
  • A professor alleged breach of contract, gender discrimination, negligent misrepresentation, due process violations, and breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing after her tenure denial. She claimed that the tenure committee failed to abide by the rules set forth in the faculty handbook as a guideline for achieving tenure. She also said the dean and provost had indicated that her work was well above average, making her a “clear-cut case” for tenure. They later cited insufficient scholastic achievement as the reason for her denial. The claim went to litigation and was settled for $90,000 after incurring $120,000 in defense costs.

To help your institution avoid these expensive disputes, those responsible for conducting tenure reviews should ensure:

  • Clarity in tenure evaluation standards. Your stated criteria for tenure should match the standards you actually apply. Clearly communicate all criteria to a tenure-track faculty member early in his or her career at the institution.
  • Consistency in tenure decisions. Results must be consistent over time among candidates with different personal characteristics—such as race, gender, disability, and national origin. The formal evaluations of an individual over time should reflect a clear set of expectations and a consistent analysis of his or her performance.
  • Candor in the evaluation of tenure-track faculty. Clearly explain to every affected faculty member the standards for tenure and the cycle for evaluating progress. Candid, periodic evaluations should include specific examples of performance, constructive criticism, and practical guidance.
  • Caring for unsuccessful candidates. Faculty and administrators must treat an unsuccessful tenure candidate with professionalism and decency. The person who conveys the news should use compassion and colleagues should not isolate the person socially. Efforts to help the candidate find another position benefit the individual and the institution.

By Mike Toohey, member relations specialist 


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