How does tenure protect profs?

Tenured professor charged with assault won’t see his tenure status change because of charges, vice-principal says

Last October, the Kingston Whig-Standard reported that an argument between two neighbours ended with one man, Brian Butler, hitting his neighbour with a 24-foot ladder, grabbing his neighbour’s neck and threatening him.

The two men were arguing over a willow tree on their property line when Butler’s neighbour threw a glass of wine at him, missed but hit Butler’s car, Kingston police told the Whig. That’s when Butler grabbed the ladder.

It turns out Brian Butler is a Queen’s psychology professor and cross-listed with the Faculty of Education.

Although he was charged with assault with a weapon and uttering threats, his tenure and his employment at Queen’s is unaffected. He’s currently teaching a second-year cognitive psychology course.

His next court date is April 3 at 9 a.m.

“It was a stupid spat between two neighbours,” he told the Journal. “What it amounted to was two middle-aged men acting like two boys.”

Butler said he didn’t want to comment further on the incident.

“The case is still before the courts and I’m not sure I really have a right to say anything,” he said. “It was a lot of bad feelings and I’m not proud of the incident at all. I have apologized for it.”

Patrick Deane, vice-principal (academic), said he doesn’t think an incident like this would be relevant to a professor’s tenure at the University.

“If someone behaves badly and it, however, doesn’t bear upon their job and the work they’re hired to do, I don’t think it’s an issue,” he said.

“Extreme behaviour of one sort or another on the part of a professor is protected by tenure—it can result in many other outcomes short of the removal of tenure.

“There is a disciplinary process proscribed in the collective agreement if one recognizes that not everybody behaves very well all the time.”

Deane said there are two categories in which tenure can be discussed.

“It’s a form of protection to liberate faculty members from the fear of persecution for issues they might wish to discuss or submit to intellectual inquiry,” he said. “In practical terms, it’s an element of the contract in which the majority of faculty members in the university work.

“If you hold a contract with tenure it means that you cannot be dismissed from the university except under very, very limited grounds.” According to the University’s collective agreement, the only disciplinary measures that may be taken by the University against a professor are the following:

  • Written warning or reprimand
  • Suspension with Pay
  • Suspension without pay or fine in lieu thereof where appropriate
  • Dismissal for cause

The collective agreement also stipulates the exact cause for dismissal, which is meted out by the principal: “The standard for dismissal shall only be gross misconduct, incompetence or persistent neglect of academic duties. Gross misconduct includes a pattern of serious misconduct.”

In some societies like our own where there are quite elaborate safe guards in the culture at large and there is a tradition of openness, Deane said, it’s not obvious how important tenure is.

“Even if there are negative aspects to tenure, the benefit for our society of having it is overwhelmingly greater because it insures that injustice will be criticized, alternative ways of thinking can be freely discussed, people who wish to challenge a particular paradigm can do so without fear of retribution and the students who come to university to learn and the researchers who come to do work can come to a place where their mind won’t be shackled, particularly because of political considerations.”

John Holmes, the president of the Queen’s University Faculty Association and a geography professor, said there’s usually a six-year process for eligible candidates to achieve tenure.

Holmes said candidates must obtain a tenure-stream position to be considered.

“At the beginning of your third year you would apply to have that appointment renewed,” he said, adding that the candidate would have to put together a teaching dossier including their publications, statements of research and statements on their philosophy of teaching.

Referees then assess the dossier.

“Referees will be external to Queen’s; they’ll be people from other universities, maybe people even external to Canada, who will be sent a dossier to review and to write letters of appraisal,” he said, adding that colleagues from the department and randomly selected students who the professor has taught are invited to write letters of recommendation as well.

From there, Holmes said, there is a committee that deals with renewal, appointment and tenure created every year in each department. It’s comprised of colleagues and students taken from both undergraduate and graduate societies.

This committee forms a recommendation based on all the letters submitted. The department head then makes his or her own recommendation, and the two recommendations are sent to the respective faculty’s dean and then to the principal.

“So the ultimate decision comes from the principal,” Holmes said. “You have it work up from the department to the faculty to the principal.”

After a professor’s first three years working, the onus is on the University to show why a professor’s employment shouldn’t be renewed, Holmes said.

“At the tenure stage [usually three years later], the onus is on the candidate to demonstrate that they merit the awarding of tenure.” Holmes said besides this whole process, each professor is assessed individually on an annual basis.

“Each year we have to submit a report on what we’ve done in the previous year,” he said.

The report goes to the department head, and he or she writes an evaluation. That goes to the faculty dean’s office and becomes a basis for determining salary increases.

“So there are sanctions that can be imposed upon people, if it is felt that they’re performing their duties at below expectation,” Holmes said.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.