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   from the issue of March 24, 2005

Policy on professorships explained

(The following email to all was sent March 14 by UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman and Vice Chancellor Barbara Couture)

Dear Colleagues:

Over the past few days much has been written and said in support for the university retaining one of our visiting professors, Orn Bodvarsson, on the basis that he is a good teacher. We share the strong commitment of faculty and students to teaching excellence and to the appointment of good teachers to the faculty. The situation as we understand it is that the College of Business Administration has offered not only to continue Professor Bodvarsson in his current status but to provide him with a five-year, renewable contract--a status, that while not tenure track, provides very significant job security and reflects the university's long-term commitment to his success as a teacher. He has declined this offer. The Department of Economics does not have an open tenure-track position. Some believe that we should create a new tenure-track position for him.

First, we should emphasize that the appointment of new faculty members and their rank and the establishment of priorities within departments are primarily the role of the faculty. A tenure-track appointment most often implies that the faculty member will make contributions to all missions of the University - teaching, research, and service - and such appointments are filled through a competitive search process. Departments, working in concert with college deans, organize resources and priorities to make such appointments available. We know that many departments across campus could identify tenure-track hiring opportunities if only they had the ability to fund new positions.

Second, we do not retain the resources centrally to respond to all of these opportunities. Indeed, as you well know, we have just come out of a period of significant budget reductions and, notwithstanding some hopeful signs in the Legislature, we face a very significant shortfall in revenue because of the decline in our enrollment. Adding new positions next year may be difficult; and if it is possible, we can't do so without first reviewing the academic plans from all units that report to us.

If the Department of Economics working through their dean believes that finding an appropriate position for Professor Bodvarrson is their top priority, we are more than willing to work with them to see how, within the resources available to the College, they can accomplish this objective. However, it should be remembered that if the College wishes to devote resources to this position, our rules require that there be a national search to fill it unless a targeted search can be justified.

Regardless of the decision made, we do not believe that failure to create a tenure-track position in this case shows that teaching is less valued than research. We currently have across the university persons appointed as "research professors" who are engaged exclusively in research and who do not carry tenure. Indeed, many of these individuals are dependent on funding their salaries with successful grants. As we have stated publicly in several venues, we should consider a similar status for individuals devoted to teaching - professorial rank without tenure - similar to what is occurring at some other research institutions. To appoint an individual who is devoted to teaching to a tenure-track position inevitably reduces the person's teaching apportionment in order to permit research and outreach.

The offer of a long-term teaching contract to Professor Bodvarrson in this instance was one step toward finding a solution. We regret that he has chosen to decline the offer to return to his home institution and wish him well. We remain available to help colleges and departments address their priority needs within their allocated resources.

-- Harvey Perlman, Barbara Couture



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Policy on professorships explained