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Prevent and Respond to Tenure Denial Claims

Heather Salko, Esq.
October 2020
How to reduce the likelihood that unsuccessful tenure bids will result in claims

Tenure claims may be expensive for your college or university to defend and even more expensive to settle. In United Educators’ (UE’s) experience, the average claim settlement exceeds $100,000. In addition to monetary costs, institutions often spend significant time defending and reliving the decision; this can take a toll on faculty and administrator morale. Tenure claims reported to UE take, on average, 18 months to resolve, not including internal appeal time. Everyone involved in a tenure denial — from the department’s tenure review committee to senior decision-makers — may remain involved throughout the life of the claim.

Taking action can reduce the likelihood that unsuccessful tenure bids will result in claims. If claims still occur, however, it’s important to fully evaluate whether it makes sense to invest in defending the claim.

Training to Reduce Claims

To reduce claims, train faculty and administrators involved in tenure reviews. It’s imperative they participate in periodic harassment and discrimination prevention training. In addition, train all faculty and administrators on the tenure process, including:

  • An overview of your institution’s tenure review process and timeline
  • A review of the criteria and standards for tenure and the expected level of achievement
  • Definitions of tenure criteria considered, such as collegiality and service
  • Limitations on what can and can’t be considered during the review process

Encourage faculty to ask clarifying questions about the process, exploring hypothetical situations such as what happens if a candidate takes a medical leave during the probationary period.

Decide Whether to Defend Your Institution

Determining whether to invest in the defense of a tenure denial claim can be difficult. Early case evaluations are important and should consider:

The strength of the tenure denial decision. Tenure remains the professional goal for most academics. Evaluate whether it was clear the candidate failed to meet your institution’s tenure standards, or if there were internal disagreements about the candidate’s strengths.

The merits of the claimant’s allegations. Look for facts, evidence, or ambiguities that make the case difficult to defend.

Whether personnel involved in the decision will be credible witnesses. Determine whether specific review decisions are defensible. Inconsistency at different review levels may lead to conflicting testimony during litigation.

Deviations from the required review process and the supporting documentation. A lack of documentation could make it difficult to prove what occurred and the reasons for changes.

The potential for negative publicity, either locally or nationally. If several factors reveal significant weaknesses, consider early settlement to help preserve institutional morale and financial resources.

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