Frequently Asked Questions

Although a university will shut its doors if it is not financially healthy, a university is not a business in a variety of ways. Businesses offer products or services to customers. They care about building relationships based on selling those products and services. Some people tend to view education similarly, but this is a misinterpretation. Colleges and universities are not for-profit entities -- they do not seek to maximize profits and minimize expenditures. They exist to serve the common good -- to advance knowledge and give students the wisdom and skills to be responsible citizens of a democracy. Think about your own education and your interactions with your faculty. How did they help you develop, grow and see the world differently? Is it at all similar to a transactional relationship with the people from whom you buy your products? We suspect not.

Unlike alumni, loyal customers typically do not give donations to fund their favorite businesses. Boards of directors for businesses are attracted for their expertise and are often paid, whereas boards of directors for universities are not expected to have expertise in higher education and typically make significant monetary gifts, which then lead to being asked to become a member of the board. Professors have specific expertise and are not easily replaceable or interchangeable. Much of their added value comes from their ability to be honest in the classroom and to research sometimes controversial topics without fear of censorship, which is why academic freedom -- secured through tenure -- is at the core of all of the most reputable institutions of higher learning.

Academic freedom is the key to faculty helping students grow by challenging their ideas. Tenure is what protects academic freedom. Once you remove tenure, faculty will fear to challenge their students in the same ways which negatively impacts their education.

It is also important to remember that tenure is protected almost universally in higher education. JCU’s new proposal is unique in its ability to single out and fire individual tenured faculty members without cause. While a university shouldn’t be run like a business, no employer can thrive if it fails to provide the basic expectations for employment that are standard across an industry, or provides incentives for its best employees to seek employment elsewhere.
Tenure protects a core value of higher education: academic freedom. Controversial subjects come up in practically every subject taught at John Carroll. An instructor in a class on African American history might ask about the pros and cons of affirmative action. An instructor in a moral decision making class might ask whether Catholic teaching on the Right to Life conflicts with a woman’s right to control her body. An economics professor might give a lecture that offends a student committed to Catholic social teaching on obligations to the poor.

The necessity for instructors to foster critical thinking will inevitably offend some students, or their parents, who will interpret calls to question assumptions as an assault on their core values. We need to resist the temptation to “cancel” John Carroll’s duty to foster critical thinking skills because students or their parents might object to the particular application an instructor uses to foster those skills. The quality of undergraduate teaching is JCU’s calling card: as of 2020, we are ranked #3 in the US News’s ranking of midwestern universities for undergraduate teaching. In just the past few years, we have been ranked as high as #1.

It’s not hard to imagine the chilling effect the erosion of tenure could have on the quality of that instruction. Imagine a big donor hearing that an instructor led a classroom discussion or is writing a book on a topic that they think challenges their values. He or she writes to the VP for advancement, or the chairperson of the board, or to the university President, demanding that this faculty member be removed -- or silenced -- or else they pull their donation. This is happening at American universities. Consider the controversy over the University of Texas’s football program & the university alma mater, “Eyes of Texas.” Some UT alumni are refusing to donate, or threatening to withdraw promised donations, unless the university bends to their demands to compel football players to remain on the field while this song is played. Many players and alums object to doing so because of its white supremacist roots. Under the board’s amendment undermining tenure, a similar demand by influential donors lodged against a JCU faculty member might prove hard to resist. Such was perhaps the case for Susan Crockford, a professor who worked without tenure for fifteen years at the University of Victoria before her 2019 dismissal. Her research showed polar bear populations thriving in the Arctic and she believed that she was dismissed because her findings cast a controversial light on the subject of climate change. Had Crockford been tenured, she could not have been dismissed without cause. Tenure protects those faculty and the academic integrity of the university; without it, faculty will take a safer route, declining to challenge their students, and thereby diminishing the quality of a JCU education -- and the value of a JCU diploma.

Finally, in many fields faculty could make much more money if they were employed in the private sector rather than in higher education. They choose to become professors because they are committed to serving rising generations. The security of tenure goes a long way toward making the tradeoff between a lower salary and employment in higher education worth it. Without it, many instructors who could find more lucrative employment in the private sector would leave JCU.
The faculty do not have transparent access to the university’s budget numbers. The Board has stated numerous times that the university faced a $20 million “structural” budget deficit as of 2020.

The university projected a budget surplus of $100,000 in February 2021, while also maintaining that this would be a fiscal year that would trigger budgetary hardship -- the millions of dollars of COVID-related costs would be “structural,” whereas the millions of dollars the university received in government grants and COVID-related donor gifts would not be “structural.” The university has regularly run budget deficits over the past decade, but its overall financial health is strong, with a hefty endowment of hundreds of millions of dollars (that grew by tens of millions of dollars this year) and hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate and other assets. The university is not in danger of shutting its doors, and despite slashing faculty and staff salaries in 2020-2021 to “avoid financial exigency,” university officials have maintained that there is no threat of financial exigency.

In October, 2020, the Board clarified that "the forecasted $20 million deficit does account for the need to invest in new programs in order to increase revenues." JCU's faculty generally believe that they offer an excellent education and that better marketing efforts would help to attract more students and balance any budget shortfalls. It is the Board's belief that JCU will not be on strong financial footing unless it adds programs to attract new students. New programs are expensive (and risky -- most fail to turn a profit). The tool that the Board has developed to terminate individual tenured faculty members would allow them to redirect those faculty members' pay towards creating new programs.
We agree with the Board on a couple of important points. We agree that we need to work together to help JCU be financially strong. We agree that it is important to strengthen the university’s academic offerings and overall student experience. Most of us have been at JCU for a long, long time. We want the University to succeed and we want the students to thrive. In fact, we recognize that the Board has the best interests of the university at heart. The problem is that the Board is constituted overwhelmingly of men and women whose experience is in the private sector. Their understanding of the values and economics of higher education is very limited.

The Board’s claim that eliminating some tenured professors to protect the jobs of the rest by funneling that money into creating new programs for students does not bear scrutiny. Firing individual faculty does not strengthen the tenure protections for those who remain unfired -- it destroys their tenure protections. They await their turn to be next on the chopping block.

The Board claims to want to improve student experiences. Protecting tenure leads to better student experiences. Protecting academic freedom allows the faculty to challenge student perceptions to help them grow. Conversely, eroding tenure provides incentives for JCU faculty to leave and disincentives for new faculty to come. It should be obvious that this hurts efforts to improve the student experience.
The Board’s amendment abolished tenure at John Carroll. The Board will insist that professors still have tenure -- because of course it would sound bad if JCU’s professors were no longer tenured. The Board seems to believe that continuing to call a professor “tenured” makes that professor tenured, even if they take away the actual protections of tenure.

The Board states, truthfully, that universities can eliminate any departments without violating tenure, but that assumes they follow the appropriate policies of deciding to no longer offer a particular subject at the university, notify the faculty well in advance, and then make good faith efforts to find new homes for the tenured faculty in other departments. The sheer difficulty of actually going through those steps to eliminate entire departments provides protection for the faculty. There are no protections for the faculty under the Board’s amendment. It even eliminates any due process right of appeal. They can fire any faculty member, without cause, with impunity.

Universities eliminate departments rarely. Not only are they supposed to find new homes for the faculty, but they also must stop teaching that subject entirely. That is rarely a good idea. This is why eliminating departments happens very infrequently. Under the Board’s new amendment, they have the power to fire particular faculty members while continuing to offer a particular subject. It is obvious that this “scalpel” approach is much more likely to be used than eliminating entire departments. This hardly enhances tenure protections.

This is also why it is devastating to academic freedom. No one believes a university would eliminate an entire department because a single faculty member did something the administration found too controversial. However, it is easy to fire a particularly “troublesome” professor. The fear that “I could be next” is what will cause faculty to steer clear of controversial subjects, doing great harm to the education of our students.

In short, the Board’s claim that they protect tenure can only be made by twisting any meaningful interpretation of the term. That’s why the national experts on tenure and academic freedom for more than 80 years, the American Association of University Professors, wrote that with this amendment, “John Carroll University would in effect be eliminating tenure.”
It is true that an increasing number of professors at colleges and universities in the United States work in part-time or full-time positions that do not carry the protections of tenure. However, that is not a good thing. In fact, it is a scandal. College students, paying tens of thousands of dollars a year for their education, are frequently taught by adjunct professors, who are paid no more than a few thousand dollars per course and receive no medical or retirement benefits. While some adjuncts are retirees, or specialists from industry who teach in addition to their day job, for a great many, teaching is their primary source of income. These are experts in their fields and excellent teachers, but many of them find it difficult to make ends meet, even teaching multiple courses at different institutions. That is called “exploitation,” and the increasing reliance of colleges and universities, including JCU, on such exploited labor should shame us all. It shows us that something has gone fundamentally wrong with the way that colleges and universities manage their budgets and priorities. What we are fighting is the exacerbation of this trend and the further devaluing of the core academic mission of institutions like JCU.

Tenure is a privilege and those lucky to enjoy it have a responsibility to advocate for those who do not. The simple fact is that adjunct faculty and faculty in other non-tenure-track positions are not protected from being targeted for what they teach or write, and there are countless instances of this happening at colleges and universities across the country. Such faculty are nonetheless frequently able to challenge their students and teach in innovative ways, but they always work with the risk of not being rehired or otherwise eliminated because of some controversial discussion. This is precisely why tenure is so important, and people concerned with the working conditions of untenured faculty should not want to see the elimination of tenure, but its expansion. Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions.
This is a common misconception. Tenure is not unconditional. Faculty members can be fired for cause if they fail to fulfill their job responsibilities, or if they behave unprofessionally or unethically. Tenure-track positions at quality institutions are highly competitive, so only highly-qualified candidates have a shot. Tenure is only awarded after many years of hard work and a rigorous process of vetting, where every aspect of the candidate’s work is evaluated. Work hours tend to increase after tenure is awarded, not decrease, because tenured professors are expected to take on more active professional service roles. In addition, every faculty member at JCU, regardless of tenure-status, is evaluated every year by their department chair and dean.

Most importantly, the life of a JCU faculty member is a life of long hours preparing classes, grading papers and exams, carrying out research, and doing service for the University, our students, our academic disciplines, and the wider community. Even during the summer, when we are technically off contract, JCU professors are working hard preparing for the next semester, doing research, speaking at conferences, and doing service work. Professors are paid less than you might expect and considerably less than professionals in other fields with comparable levels of education and expertise. We do it because we love what we do. We love our students. We believe in the mission of the University and we want to see it carried out. The security that comes with tenure is an important part of the equation, however.

Eliminating tenure eliminates a major reason why professors are willing to put in long hours for comparatively little financial reward, no matter how much love they have for the work itself. It also undermines the reciprocal relationship between faculty members and the University. Tenured faculty members understand that they have more than a job: they have responsibilities and obligations to their students, their disciplines, their institutions and the wider world. In exchange, the University makes a commitment to the faculty member to support them and provide the security necessary for them to live up to these obligations. The Board’s decision has fundamentally altered that relationship: faculty members are now just employees, who can be eliminated as the Board sees fit. That cannot but alter the extent to which faculty members are willing to be more than just employees.
In their press release included in a story for WEWS on Mar. 3, 2021 the University says, in part: “The amendments are designed to update several provisions of the Faculty Handbook, which is outdated, fails to promote fairness and equity, and is not consistent with best practices in higher education.”

These are merely assertions raised in the Board’s amendments; they do not identify what is ostensibly more equitable or fairer about these changes. They undermine principles of shared governance in which the function of the university depends on the co-determinative input of all stakeholders, and in the process consolidate power in the hands of the president and provost. Even more concerning to faculty, and not consistent with fairness, is that the new budgetary hardship amendment also removes the right of appeal for faculty terminated without cause for budgetary conditions far short of exigency. It is worth noting that faculty actually have more standing in the more dire state of ‘financial exigency’ condition than under budgetary hardship.

The very existence of differential benefits among faculty and staff, as is currently the state at JCU, is directly tied to an administrative decision that began more than a decade ago and could have been remedied through a reasonable proposal by the administration to bring benefits into greater parity. Such a proposal has not been made. Instead they have chosen to alter the terms of the faculty handbook to grant themselves more power.
In their press release included in a story for WEWS on Mar. 3, 2021 the University says, in part: “Modeled after similar practices and language found at other universities, including a number of successful Jesuit institutions, the amendments prioritize the retention of tenured positions and the preservation of academic freedom, to which the Board is fully committed.”

The claim that their amendments, including that of budgetary hardship, model similar policies at other Jesuit schools was made by William Donnelly at a General Faculty meeting on Jan. 20, 2021. He provided the names of three institutions: Loyola University Chicago, Loyola University Maryland and Marquette University. Members of faculty leadership examined those handbooks and concluded that the claim was ‘in error’ with respect to the hardship amendment. On Jan. 27, 2021 a letter from the Faculty Council executive committee, Faculty Handbook Committee and JCU AAUP executive committee was sent laying out what we saw in those handbooks. Along with the national AAUP, we find that the Board's position is not supported by the evidence.

Below are links to the full text of each handbook, excerpts of the sections that deal with financial and other conditions for removal of tenured faculty without cause. We invite you to read them and draw your own conclusions.

Questions for the reader to consider:
-Do any of these have a threshold lower than ‘exigency’ or closing of a program/department to eliminate tenured faculty without cause?
-Is there a provision for moving tenured faculty to other suitable positions within the university before eliminating them?
-Are faculty directly part of the shared governance related to the declaration of this financial trigger?
-Is the decision on criteria for whom to eliminate left up to the faculty or is it consigned to the provost or president?
-Do tenured faculty have the right of appeal when they are eliminated?

Excerpts of cited handbooks
-Loyola Chicago Excerpt
-Loyola Maryland Excerpt
-Marquette Excerpt

Full texts of cited handbooks
-Loyola Chicago Faculty Handbook
-Loyola Maryland Faculty Handbook
-Marquette Faculty Handbook