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Tenure in Illinois Public Community Colleges
By Leo Welch

The Public Act that established public community colleges in Illinois had an effective date of July 15, 1965. It was not until January 1, 1980 that faculty had the protection of tenure that had long been established for faculty in both private and public colleges and universities in Illinois.

The major difference for community colleges is that tenure is now state law! The bill was initiated by the Illinois Federation of Teachers with Senate sponsor Senator Art Berman (D-Chicago) and House sponsor Representative Michael Getty (D-Dolton). There was intense lobbying against SB 147 by community college trustees and administrators. The bill would not have been passed by the General Assembly without the support of the Republican leadership led by George Ryan (R-Kankakee), the minority leader. Tremendous support was also provided by the State AFL-CIO and other labor organizations.

On October 31, 1979, the Illinois House of Representatives overrode Republican Governor James Thompson’s veto of Senate Bill 147. The vote was 122 to 40 in favor of tenure. Since this was a veto override, a three-fifths vote was required. This landmark legislation remains one of the most significant acts dealing with faculty rights both in Illinois and the nation.

Community College Tenure Act

The Public Act 81-1100 that established tenure for full-time faculty went into effect January 1, 1980. This act established the right to acquire tenure for all full-time faculty engaged in teaching or academic support services in Illinois public community colleges. This act does not include faculty at public or private colleges and universities. In these institutions tenure is established by “rule” or contract provisions, if a contract exists.

Tenure for any full-time faculty member can be established if the faculty member has been employed for a period of three consecutive academic years. Employment during a summer term is excluded. However, a local board of trustees, may at its option, extend such a probationary period for one additional academic year. The faculty member must be given notification not later than 60 days prior to the end of the academic year if the probationary term is to be extended. Failure to notify faculty in a timely manner of this extension should result in de facto tenure.
The specific reasons for the optional one year extension shall remain confidential, but it shall be issued to the faculty member on request. A tenure-track faculty member may be dismissed during the probationary period as long as the Board of Trustees notifies the faculty member no later than 60 days before the end of an academic year. Again, the reason for dismissal shall remain confidential, but it shall be issued to the faculty member on request.

The Board is also required to provide a rule or contract for a procedure to evaluate the performance and qualifications for a non-tenured faculty member. There is no statement in this Act that requires post-tenure evaluation of faculty. For example, an honorable discharge can take place if there is a reduction in force to decrease the number of faculty members employed by the Board or a particular type of teaching service or program is discontinued, notice shall be given to the affected faculty member not later than 60 days prior to the end of an academic year. But, no tenured faculty member can be terminated while a probationary faculty member or any other employee with less seniority is retained to render a service which the tenured faculty member is competent to render.

The operational term is “competent to render.” Since the Board has the legal right to determine employee qualifications, without specific contract language the Board can decide if a tenured faculty member is competent to render a service. This Act also requires a Board to establish a seniority list, categorized by positions, showing the seniority list of each faculty member for each position entailing services such a faculty member is competent to render. Copies of this list shall be distributed to the appropriate collective bargaining unit on or before February 1 of each year. In Illinois, all public community colleges have collective bargaining for all full-time faculty.

Tenure Under Attack In Illinois – Again!

It appears to be the season to attack tenure. As the economic recession continues to generate revenue problems for the states and the public sector of higher education sees funding reduction, we see increased attacks on faculty. From furloughs, layoffs, and termination of positions and programs; the onslaught continues. In some cases, the financial situation is so drastic that trustees and administrations have no choice but to take these severe measures. In other cases this may be simply an opportunistic effort to impact faculty rights.

The attempt to limit tenure rights is nothing new in Illinois. In 2004, State Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) introduced HB 4073 which would create a “Higher Education Commission” to establish criteria for tenure of public university professors. The Commission would be comprised of a politically appointed governing board which would establish criteria for tenure at the respective public universities. Each of the public university Board of Trustees would be expected to utilize these criteria for making tenure decisions. If a faculty member is recommended for tenure, the name would then be submitted to the Commission for final approval.

This dramatic attack on the tenure process was due to a single constituent who complained to Rep. Davis that she was denied tenure. This resulted in the introduction of HB 4073 to completely politicize the tenure process. This threat to tenure mobilized the Illinois Association of University Professors, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association to oppose the bill. Private negotiations took place with Davis and the hearing held by the Illinois House Committee on High Education on February 25, 2004 did not hear the bill. Davis withdrew her support for the bill minutes before the committee meeting took place.
Since then, it has been relatively quiet on the tenure front in Illinois until 2010, with a discussion among community college Chief Academic Officers. They propose that the probationary period for tenure-track faculty is too short – the maximum, they believe, should be at least an additional year. Their argument is that in order to more properly evaluate probationary faculty the period should be extended beyond four years. The exact probationary period has yet to be established.
They further argue that the extended probationary period is needed to help faculty. They base this argument on what could be potentially poor evaluations of faculty by a tenure committee. If there are poor evaluations they, the faculty member, would be given extra time to improve performance before the current statutory time-lines go into effect. This may sound good on the surface, but there is an inherent danger of revising the tenure act for any reason. One of the main reasons to oppose revision of the tenure act is that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) links tenure and academic freedom.

Not only is tenure under attack in various parts of the United States, but so is academic freedom. There are various court cases that have limited the rights of faculty speech and an extended probationary period for tenure would not be any help on this regard. It is imperative that the AAUP, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Illinois Community College Faculty Association, and the Illinois Education Association as well as other organizations that support tenure and academic freedom join together to oppose any diminution of faculty rights.

This article originally appeared in the newsletter of the Illinois Community College Faculty Association.