Opinion: Regents playing politics with well-being of state’s colleges

09/13/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Wendy Simonds holds a sign that reads “The [Georgia] Board of Regents Makes us Sick” during a demonstration at the Georgia State University Campus in Atlanta, Monday, September 13, 2021. Faculty members and students from about 20 public colleges and universities in Georgia started a weeklong series of demonstrations demanding tougher COVID-19 safety measures, such as a mask mandate, in all campus buildings. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)
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09/13/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Wendy Simonds holds a sign that reads “The [Georgia] Board of Regents Makes us Sick” during a demonstration at the Georgia State University Campus in Atlanta, Monday, September 13, 2021. Faculty members and students from about 20 public colleges and universities in Georgia started a weeklong series of demonstrations demanding tougher COVID-19 safety measures, such as a mask mandate, in all campus buildings. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Georgia State University professor emerita says Regents is embracing a political agenda

In a guest column today, a Georgia State University professor emerita says the Board of Regents is violating its own policies by capitulating to a political agenda.

After receiving her doctorate from the University of Minnesota, Christine Gallant taught English literature for 31 years, 27 of them at GSU where she retired as professor emerita in 2011. She has published five books and received a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship in 2003.

Gallant is a member of GSU’s Emeriti Association and editor of EmeriTies, their newsletter.

By Christine Gallant

When will the Board of Regents follow its own policy manual? Section 6.4 is arguably its core: “Political Interference. The Board of Regents is unalterably opposed to political interference or domination of any kind or character in the affairs of any University System of Georgia (USG) institution.”

But the Regents’ political interference in the USG has seemed clear since last March when some of them pushed the selection of Sonny Perdue as the next USG chancellor, although he lacks any relevant experience for the job. At the time, Gov. Brian Kemp expressed his admiration for this former Republican governor and ex-cabinet member under Trump for the position.

Again, in September after the university term had begun, there was the faculty furor over the lack of campus vaccine or mask mandates. There also were faculty demonstrations and university senates passing resolutions that their presidents be allowed to issue individual campus mandates.

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Georgia State University Professor Emerita Christine Gallant

Credit: CUs

Georgia State University Professor Emerita Christine Gallant
Caption
Georgia State University Professor Emerita Christine Gallant

Credit: CUs

Credit: CUs

But Gov. Kemp had issued an executive order banning any mask mandates in public agencies so Acting Chancellor Teresa MacCartney refused, stating that she would follow the governor’s opposition to mask and vaccine mandates at state schools.

Yet, the Policy’s Section 7.11.2 on risk management seems to allow the presidents this leeway. “The Board of Regents… will define the USG’s ability (risk tolerance) and willingness (risk appetite) to absorb the impact of certain risks. … Acceptance of risk shall not include: willful exposure of students, employees, or others to unsafe environments or activities.”

Further, it states: “The Chancellor, through…institutional presidents, shall ensure that USG risks are effectively managed; each institution president performs a similar role within his or her institution.”

And now the Regents has de facto abolished faculty tenure, making this drastic policy change by amending the section on post-tenure review. This had been a routine review every five years by department chairs and deans, with a performance-improvement plan if needed.

But now, the reviewed faculty member’s tenure may be revoked if he/she fails two consecutive post-tenure reviews and doesn’t make sufficient improvement as determined by the chair, dean, and college president. So, the previous peer-review by other faculty to revoke tenure—and thus due process-- has been eliminated.

It’s hard to express how anxious and demoralized a great many tenured faculty now feel, with some of the best looking for somewhere else to go. Will there be retaliation for their earlier demonstrations and dissent from Gov. Kemp’s orders? Is this a preparation to smooth the way for Perdue’s appointment as chancellor?

All of this seems to violate Section 6.4 above. As a professor emerita who cannot have her tenure revoked, I shout: Regents, follow your own policy.

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