The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHS) Board of Trustees recently amended a policy that will shift the dynamic of faculty tenure across the state. Per the amendment, which was passed without discussion from the board, the presidents of Mississippi’s eight public universities will now have control over which faculty members receive tenure.
New language in the policy states that presidents can consider a faculty member’s “collegiality” and “contumacious conduct” as well as their “effectiveness, accuracy, and integrity in communications” during the tenure approval process. Although faculty who are denied tenure can still appeal the decision to the IHS, some professors at state institutions are concerned that the new policy could curtail academic freedom.
“I worry these new terms would be used to try and chill faculty speech and participation in shared governance,” University of Mississippi professor and tenure expert Neal Hutchens told Mississippi Today.
The official motivations behind the amendment and its long-term effects on tenure in Mississippi are yet to be seen. However, the decision serves as the most recent example of lawmakers and higher education officials attempting to significantly alter the tenure process in Southern states. Another concerning factor is that the IHS made changes with little to no input from faculty members in the state, according to experts.
“It would’ve been nice to have some real town halls on this, so that we could ask questions, like ‘What do these standards do that existing [human resources] don’t?’” Hutchens told the publication.