Faculty worried by handbook changes

Stephanie Grella, Staff Writer

A recent revision of NYU’s Faculty Handbook has raised concerns from many non-tenured and contract professors about their academic freedom and right to negotiate.

NYU provost David McLaughlin sent a draft of the handbook — including tracked revisions — to full-time faculty on Oct. 2. Faculty also received a set of guidelines outlining new clauses pertaining primarily to non-tenured faculty.

NYU spokesman John Beckman said these changes were made to the handbook on Sept. 1 with the creation of two faculty senate councils, one designated for tenure-tracked faculty and the new council for non-tenured employees.

“NYU has taken a major and important step by recognizing full-time, non-tenure-track, contract faculty within our governance structure,” Beckman said.

Ronald Rainey, a professor in Liberal Studies and one of the non-tenured track faculty senators, said these revisions, aimed to tailor policies toward non-tenured faculty, are infringing on contract faculty’s academic freedom. Rainey pointed to one particular clause, which affects only non-tenured faculty in the provost’s new set of guidelines.

The handbook reads: “Even in those cases in which a candidate satisfies the appropriate standards of achievement, the decision to reappoint or promote may be impacted by curricular and structural changes and improvements in academic programs.”

Rainey said the clause is concerning because it elicits fear in non-tenure track professors whose contracts are under review every five years.

“You can meet all the criteria that is required for reappointment and still not be reappointed,” Rainey said. “The lack of job security is rather concerning.”

LS professor Michael Shenefelt, another LS faculty member, said a complaint was recently brought against two deans, and after the complaint was filed, changes were made to the handbook’s Title IV section, which outlines the protection of complaint procedures.

“I can’t know whether they made these changes to protect deans from investigations,” Shenefelt said. “I can’t know that without knowing the secrets of their heart. But I would say the timing is damn suspicious.”

Shenefelt said this change under Title IV was not visibly tracked in the draft sent by the provost. Beckman said the changes were a mistake. 

“To be sure, that was an error,” Beckman said. “It was a totally innocent one made during a large revision of the Faculty Handbook. We regret that it happened, but no one should seek to read anything into it.”

Ezra Sacks, a Tisch professor and chairman of the Non-Tenure Track Full Time Contract Faculty Council sub-committee on governance, said the addition of non-tenured faculty to the University Senate marked a major step forward for contract faculty.

“For that full-time, non-tenure track, not having a voice in governance at the university level has always been troubling, so they are excited to now have a seat at the table,” Sacks said.

Despite this progress, Rainey found it peculiar that several of the handbook’s clauses limit faculty’s protections after the university gave them a prominent spot on the senate.

“If the contract faculty are being invited to take part of university governance, wouldn’t the issues that pertain to contract faculty be the things we should be expressing our voices on?” Rainey said.

One concern among professors is the grievance procedure, which now gives non-tenured faculty a shorter period of time to issue a grievance than tenured faculty.

“There’s also not an explicit allowance for the contract faculty to be represented by an attorney,” Rainey said. “There are a number of protections tenured faculty have that contract faculty lost in this new handbook.”

Beckman ensured the change to the grievance clause is an appropriate step for non-tenured faculty rather than an arbitrary change.

“In this instance, redress should be sought through a grievance procedure,” Beckman said. “This has nothing to do with any ‘changing of the rules.’”

Shenefelt said these changes simply limit the academic freedom of non-tenured faculty.

“The idea here is that contract faculty should be protected from punishment for their opinions, and what you’re seeing is a change in those protections,” Shenefelt said.

Regarding the new guidelines focused solely on non-tenured faculty, Rainey said his senate council should have been part of developing these guidelines before their publication.

“If this opportunity to review and comment is meant to be our opportunity to express our voice, we would have liked that opportunity before the guidelines had been issued and posted,” Rainey said.

NYU faculty members are currently reviewing the handbook and sending their feedback before the university Board of Trustees’ vote on Dec. 1.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 10 print edition. Email Stephanie Grella at [email protected]