The University of Montana's latest round of tenure applications — a career milestone that can coincide with a salary increase — was accidentally left off the Montana Board of Regents’ most recent meeting agenda.
At the start of this academic year, 19 UM faculty members had been recommended for tenure, according to UM. To receive this status, professors must complete at least five years of employment, undergo a rigorous campus-level review, and get final approval from the Board of Regents.
However, over the weekend, University Faculty Association President Megan Stark learned the 19 recommendations had been left off the agenda for the Board of Regents’ meeting in Butte last week. “I am not aware that this has ever happened before,” she said.
“The staff who normally do this were overwhelmed and forgot to submit the list,” Provost Jon Harbor wrote in a Thursday email to faculty. “The University is adding staff to that office to alleviate their overwhelming workload.
"Meanwhile, the Office of the Provost has added a line to our checklists to make sure we have another step in place to ensure the submission of this item is not overlooked again.”
Stark said all of the tenure recommendations will be considered by the Board of Regents at the Nov. 21-22 meeting; logistical challenges ruled out an earlier consideration, she told the Faculty Senate at a meeting on Thursday.
Less than a month ago, about 60 to 70 UM and Missoula College employees failed to receive paychecks on time. At the time, a UM spokesperson attributed the drop to delays in submitting necessary paperwork.
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The current delay with tenure applications had the potential to disrupt faculty members’ plans. Stark said tenure status gives faculty members the right to take sabbaticals and have their contracts automatically renewed every year. She also explained that faculty members can apply simultaneously for tenure and promotion to associate professor, which yields a salary increase.
In his email to faculty, Harbor wrote that faculty members who had applied for promotion along with tenure would receive the corresponding salary increases with an effective date of Oct. 1, and faculty should continue to apply for sabbaticals and submit certain research-related paperwork as if they had tenure.
“The administration did a good job reassuring (Stark) and me that no one was going to be hurt,” said Faculty Senate President Mark Pershouse before the meeting. “I hope that’s the case.”
As for the tenure awards themselves, university spokeswoman Paula Short said that once the Board of Regents approves them, they will retroactively apply to the beginning of the academic year. “You can consider your tenure awarded as of August 17, 2019,” Harbor wrote.
That didn’t clarify things for environmental studies professor Rosalyn LaPier. “I really would like clarification as to whether or not I do have tenure or do not have tenure, and what is the legal role of the Board of Regents,” the provost and UM in the process, she asked Stark at the meeting.
“My understanding is that the Board of Regents has final approval on whether or not individuals have tenure,” said Stark, although she said she was waiting on further information from the university’s legal counsel.
“Tenure is a huge deal in a faculty member’s career,” Stark told the Faculty Senate meeting. “It’s exciting, it is so well-earned and worked hard for, so I can imagine the disappointment and the frustration that those of you who applied ... I share that disappointment, and I’m sorry that you’re experiencing it.”