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Now the sole finalist for CU’s presidency, Bruce Benson’s past position on tenure has some wondering about the future for tenured professors at CU.
During his time as Board of Trustees chairman at Metropolitan State College of Denver, Benson worked with the board to introduce tenure initiatives that would have dramatically changed job security for tenured professors.
Mark Belkin, director of Field Services for the American Federation of Teachers Colorado chapter, said Benson was one of the lead proponents of revoking tenure at Metro.
Benson was unavailable when contacted for comment.
Belkin said he sees tenure as the cornerstone of academic freedom.
“It is surprising that someone who has a record of being anti-academic freedom would be considered to head the flagship university in Colorado,” he said.
Uriel Nauenberg, a physics professor who serves as the chair of the Faculty Assembly at CU, said he thinks tenure is a key component of a university.
“Tenure is a necessary ingredient for a university setting,” Nauenberg said. “Our tenured professors’ teachings are radical and controversial. They shouldn’t be fired for doing that.”
However, Nauenberg also said he believes Benson would be beneficial for the CU system.
“He’s a straight shooter and he means what he says,” Nauenberg said. “I’m willing to take him at his word.”
Benson served as chairman of the Board of Trustees from 2002 to 2007. Gov. Bill Ritter declined to reappoint him to the board in May 2007.
In 2003, the Board of Trustees issued a faculty handbook detailing a new policy concerning tenure. The annual employment contracts professors had to sign indicated that tenured professors could be laid off before part-time faculty when money was tight.
Hal Nees, president of the Faculty Senate at Metro, said that when the board was making changes to the handbook, the Faculty Senate made several proposals for it. One of the proposals, the one concerning tenure, was not taken.
Nees said he did not know the real reason for the board’s desire to limit tenure, but he assumed that it was so they could lay off whomever they chose in a budget crunch.
Five professors at the school, as well as the Colorado Federation of Teachers, sued the Board of Trustees, arguing that the change in policy breached their employment contracts and removed their procedural due process right.
Check out our 11-part Benson series
In 2003, a trial court ruled that there was no breach in contract. Then, in March 2007, the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the ruling in part because it agreed that the new policy gave the president final authority to dismiss a tenured professor. The case is now in front of the Colorado Supreme Court.
Belkin said Benson never showed any indication to try to resolve the issue with Metro faculty outside of the courts.
In 2003, Benson was quoted in the Denver Post as saying that the Board of Trustees was trying to treat Metro’s faculty well.
“We’ve had budget cuts,” he told the Denver Post. “We haven’t been able to give the pay raises we’d like. We’re working on it.”
Belkin said the American Federation of Teachers states that it has become more difficult to attract faculty to Metro because of their track record with tenure.
Additionally, he said the board’s action resulted in the organization of Metro’s full-time faculty into a union. The Metro State Faculty Federation was made official in March 2005 in an attempt to protect the tenure system.
At CU, tenure can only be offered to professors and associate professors. According to the Board of Regents’ policies, tenure may be granted to faculty members who have “demonstrated meritorious performance in each of the three areas of teaching, research/creative work and service, and demonstrated excellence in either teaching or research/creative work.”
Faculty who are beginning their academic careers at CU are first considered to be assistant professors. They are then placed on a seven-year probationary period, at the end of which they can be promoted to associate professors or receive tenure. Typically, promotion to associate professor and tenure happen at the same time.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Marcy Franklin at email@example.com.