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Commissions invite comment on severe-sanctions draft

Introduction by Pat Hyer, associate provost

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 04 - September 18, 1997

A recommendation for a "severe sanction" was identified in the post-tenure-review policy (PTR) as one of the possible outcomes of a peer review of persistent unsatisfactory performance. During 1996-97, the Commission on Faculty Affairs defined the term "severe sanctions" and the process for imposing such sanctions in the context of post-tenure review. The Board of Visitors approved the recommended changes in the PTR policy at its August meeting.

The commission is now addressing severe sanctions in contexts other than PTR, such as serious violations of university policy, unethical behavior, sexual harassment, or scholarly misconduct. Introduction of such language is an important addition to the Faculty Handbook which currently does not define sanctions less than dismissal for cause, nor what process should be used in imposing a sanction in cases where serious violations of university policy have been reported, investigated, and validated.

The proposed language uses the same definition for severe sanctions as approved in the case of post-tenure review, and the same process for imposing the sanctions. As recommended by AAUP, the proposed process follows the same steps and appeal procedures as dismissal for cause (see section 2.11.1 of the Faculty Handbook). The text of the proposed new section for the Faculty Handbook is below.

PROPOSED TEXT APPLICABLE TO

INSTRUCTIONAL FACULTY AND

EXTRACOLLEGIATE FACULTY WITH CONTINUED APPOINTMENT:

Imposition of Sanctions Other Than Dismissal

1) Process for Imposing a Severe Sanction:

The conduct of a faculty member, although not constituting adequate cause for dismissal, may be sufficiently grave to justify imposition of a severe sanction. Imposition of a severe sanction shall follow the same procedures as dismissal for cause beginning with Step 1. If the matter is not resolved at the first step, a standing or ad hoc faculty committee will conduct an informal inquiry (Step 2). The requirement for such an informal inquiry shall be satisfied if the investigation was conducted by an appropriately charged faculty committee (as would be the case with an alleged violation of the ethics or scholarly misconduct policies) and the matter was subsequently referred to the administration for sanctions or punitive action.

2) Process for Imposing a Minor Sanction:

If an administrator believes the conduct of a faculty member justifies imposition of a minor sanction, the faculty member will be notified in writing of the proposed sanction and provided an opportunity to respond. A faculty member who believes that a severe sanction has been incorrectly imposed under this section, or that a minor sanction has been unjustly imposed, may file a grievance following procedures outlined in the Faculty Handbook.

3) Definitions and Examples:

A severe sanction generally involves a significant loss or penalty to a faculty member, such as but not limited to a demotion in rank and/or a reduction in salary or suspension without pay for a period not to exceed one year, imposed for unacceptable conduct and/or a serious breach of university policy.

Minor sanctions include but are not limited to verbal or written reprimand. As compared to severe sanctions, minor sanctions usually do not involve a financial loss or penalty.

Routine personnel actions such as a recommendation for a below-average or no merit increase, conversion from a calendar-year to an academic-year appointment, reassignment, or removal of an administrative stipend do not constitute "sanctions" within the meaning of this policy. A personnel action such as these may be a valid issue for grievance under procedures defined in the Faculty Handbook.

Instructional faculty members should address their comments to Sigrid Gustafson, chair of the Commission on Faculty Affairs at sbg@vt.edu, Psychology 0436, by October 3.

The Commission on Administrative and Professional Faculty Affairs (CAPFA) is considering parallel language for inclusion in the section of the Faculty Handbook related to employment matters for this group of faculty members. The definitions of minor and severe sanctions are identical for both instructional and A/P faculty members, and the process used would be the existing process for dismissal for cause for the administrative and professional faculty as defined in section 3.6 of the Faculty Handbook.

These existing procedures allow for due process and an opportunity for the faculty member to respond prior to a decision; such personnel actions may be grievable using standard grievance procedures. The dismissal for cause process for A/P faculty members, however, is more streamlined than that defined for faculty members with tenure or continued appointment. The new language is a helpful tool for supervisors dealing with serious violations of policy where a recommendation to dismiss is deemed too severe or inappropriate for the circumstances.

PROPOSED TEXT APPLICABLE TO ADMINISTRATIVE AND PROFESSIONAL FACULTY

Imposition of Sanctions Other Than Dismissal

a) Process for Imposing a Severe Sanction:

The conduct of a faculty member, although not constituting adequate cause for dismissal, may be sufficiently grave to justify imposition of a severe sanction. Imposition of a severe sanction shall follow the same procedures as dismissal for cause.

b) Process for Imposing a Minor Sanction:

If a supervisor believes the conduct of a faculty member justifies imposition of a minor sanction, the faculty member will be notified in writing of the proposed sanction and provided an opportunity to respond. A faculty member who believes that a severe sanction has been incorrectly imposed under this section, or that a minor sanction has been unjustly imposed, may file a grievance following procedures outlined in the Faculty Handbook.

3) Definitions and Examples:

A severe sanction generally involves a significant loss or penalty to a faculty member, such as but not limited to a reduction in title, responsibilities, and/or salary, or suspension without pay for a period not to exceed one year, imposed for unacceptable conduct and/or a serious breach of university policy.

Minor sanctions include but are not limited to verbal or written reprimand. As compared to severe sanctions, minor sanctions usually do not involve a financial loss or penalty.

Routine personnel actions such as a recommendation for a below-average or no merit increase, reassignment, or removal of an administrative stipend do not constitute "sanctions" within the meaning of this policy. A personnel action such as these may be a valid issue for grievance under procedures defined in the Faculty Handbook.

Administrative and professional faculty members should address their comments to CAPFA, c/o Pat Hyer, hyerp@vt.edu, Provost's Office 0132 by October 3.