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    Prevent and Respond to Tenure Denial Claims

    professor teaching students in class

    For colleges and universities, tenure claims are expensive to defend and even more expensive to settle. In United Educators’ (UE’s) experience, the average claim settlement exceeds $100,000. In addition to monetary costs, institutions often spend significant time defending and reliving the decision; this can take a toll on faculty and administrator morale. The average tenure claims reported to UE take 18 months to resolve, not including internal appeal time. Everyone involved in a tenure denial — from the department’s tenure review committee to senior decision-makers — may remain involved throughout the life of the claim.

    Deciding Whether to Defend Your Institution

    Determining whether to invest in the defense of a tenure denial claim can be difficult. Early case evaluations are important and should consider:

    • The strength of the tenure denial decision. Tenure — permanent employment granted to a professor after a probationary period — remains the professional goal for most academics. Evaluate whether it was clear the candidate failed to meet the institution’s tenure standards, or if there were internal disagreements about the candidate’s strengths.
    • The merits of the claimant’s allegations. Look for facts, evidence, or ambiguities that make the case difficult to defend.
    • Whether personnel involved in the decision will be credible witnesses. Determine whether specific review decisions are defensible. Inconsistency at different review levels may lead to conflicting testimony during litigation.
    • Any deviations from the required review process and the supporting documentation. A lack of documentation could make it difficult to prove what occurred and the reasons for changes.
    • The potential for negative publicity, either locally or nationally.

    If several factors reveal significant weaknesses, consider early settlement to help preserve institutional morale and financial resources.

    Do This to Reduce Claims

    To reduce claims, it’s crucial to train faculty and administrators involved in tenure reviews. It is imperative they participate in periodic harassment and discrimination prevention training. In addition, train all faculty and administrators on the tenure process, including:

    • An overview of the institution’s tenure review process and timeline
    • A review of the criteria and standards for tenure, and the expected level of achievement 
    • Definitions of tenure criteria considered, such as collegiality and service
    • Limitations on what can and cannot be considered during the review process

    Encourage faculty to ask clarifying questions about the process, exploring hypothetical situations such as what happens if a candidate takes a medical leave during the probationary period.

    Despite your best efforts, an unsuccessful tenure bid may still result in a claim. However, with training and early, honest evaluation, you can take steps to minimize the impact and disruption these claims have on your campus.

    More From UE

    Problems Arising From Tenure Denials: A Review of Recent Claims 

    The Goal Is Fairness 

    By Heather A. Salko, senior risk management counsel