Panel recommends ending tenure at KCTCS; full board to vote Friday

VERSAILLES — After a sometimes testy discussion, a committee of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System's governing board endorsed a controversial plan Thursday to eliminate tenure for all future faculty members.

The proposed new policy will be up for consideration by the full Board of Regents when it meets here Friday morning.

Tenure would be eliminated for those hired in July or thereafter; tenured teachers already on staff would not lose their tenure. The new rule would apply at the system's 16 colleges statewide.

KCTCS officials contend that eliminating tenure for new faculty members would allow greater "flexibility" to alter programs or make other necessary changes during the current uncertain economy. Essentially, the change would make it easier to lay off individuals whose positions are no longer needed.

Some faculty members are vigorously opposing the plan, which the regents' Finance, Technology and Human Resources Committee approved on a 4-2 vote Thursday.

During the session, opponents suggested that eliminating tenure could backfire by lowering educational quality, increasing costs and discouraging faculty members from speaking out against wrongs.

Board Chairman Richard Bean answered with a sharply worded statement in which he hammered regent Paul Callan and some other critics for what Bean called "misinformation" and "fabrications" in recent e-mails and other communications sent out about the tenure issue. Callan is a faculty representative from the Bluegrass Community and Technical College's Danville campus.

"I do not believe that you can't have quality without tenure," Bean declared. "Those who want to be educators will be educators with or without tenure."

Committee members supporting the proposal include Bean, P.G. Peeples Sr., Mark Brooks and Thomas Zawacki. Michael Quillen, a biology professor at Maysville Community and Technical College, and Randall Barnes, a student representative from the West Kentucky Community and Technical College, cast "no" votes.

The Kentucky Community and Technical College System now has both tenured and non-tenured employment tracks, although some of its schools don't have tenured positions. Those who enter the tenure track can receive tenure after six years, essentially making them faculty members for life.

Under the proposed new plan, teachers hired after July 1 could get multi-year contracts after a few years on the job, but not tenure.

KCTCS President Michael McCall said many U.S. community colleges are moving away from tenure. Of the seven states surrounding Kentucky, only Ohio provides tenure in its community college system, he said.

McCall asserted that dropping tenure would not limit faculty members' academic freedom or due process protections, which he said are maintained with or without tenure.

On the other hand, McCall said, eliminating tenure would make it easier for the college system to respond rapidly to economic changes or the shifting training needs of employers. He cited a hypothetical example of a tenured Latin teacher whose position is no longer needed. Tenure would force the system to retain the teacher and provide some type of job, even if a Latin course is no longer offered, he said.

Meanwhile, Callan suggested that, without tenure, faculty members would be hesitant to take stands unpopular with their college administrations. If a faculty member on a one-year contract speaks out of turn, "we just don't renew your contract," Callan argued.

Quillen also raised objections, suggesting that faculty members with tenure publish more and are more likely to go above and beyond regular teaching than those working on year-to-year contracts. He also maintained that high-quality teachers will be harder to recruit for Kentucky's community college system if tenure isn't available to them.