Vice Chancellor Frederick Shaffer outlines the procedures used in the case

At the monthly plenary session of the University Faculty Senate last night, a number of persons raised some concerns with the Chancellor about the action taken by the Board of Trustees at its meeting on Monday to grant tenure to Robert David Johnson of the Brooklyn College History Department and to promote him to full professor.  In addition, there have been some e-mails on the UFS list serve on the subject.  The purpose of this memorandum is to set forth the main background facts concerning the procedures that were followed and to address some of the specific misapprehensions that have been expressed.  Because of the confidentiality of personnel matters, I will not deal with the substance of the tenure and promotion decision.

I.  The Governance Issue

Under the Bylaws of the Board of Trustees, all recommendations of a college president concerning appointment,  promotion and tenure are made by the college President to the Chancellor, who in turn presents them to the Board with his recommendations, if any.  The final decision on such matters rests with the Board.  While It is not common for either the Chancellor or the Board to reject a college's recommendation on such a matter, it has occurred before, and  it is clearly within their authority to do so.  Neither the Chancellor nor the Board is intended to be a rubber stamp, any more than the college President is intended to be a rubber stamp of the personnel committee(s) of the college.  Indeed, the Board expects the Chancellor to exercise his judgment with respect to matters he brings before it.

II.  The Usual Grievance Procedure

Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement,  a faculty member who is dissatisfied with a decision concerning promotion or tenure (among other things) may file a grievance.   An effort to resolve a grievance initially occurs at a meeting with the President or her designee (Step 1); if the grievance is not settled at that level, a similar effort is undertaken with the Chancellor or his designee (Step 2).  At either step, the settlement may include the full range of remedies, including the appointment of a "select faculty committee" (see next paragraph).

If those efforts to resolve the grievance are unsuccessful, the faculty member may commence an arbitration.  If the arbitrator finds that the grievance is meritorious, however, the remedy may not include a grant of tenure or promotion, or any other exercise of academic judgment. Rather, the arbitrator must remand the decision to a select faculty committee consisting of three faculty members who are not from the same college as the grievant.  The list of names for service on a select faculty is negotiated and modified from time to time by the University and the PSC.  There are currently about 50 names on the list.  The actual selection of names for a specific matter is made within the University's Office of Faculty and Staff Relations.

III.  The Procedure Followed Here

Early last year Professor Johnson applied for promotion from associate to full professor.  Under the Bylaws, if he had been promoted to full professor, he would have been granted tenure upon his next reappointment. His application for promotion was denied by the appropriate faculty committees at Brooklyn College primarily on the basis of an alleged lack of collegiality.  Professor Johnson's excellent record of scholarship and teaching was never in doubt.  Professor Johnson appealed that denial to the President.  Prior to that appeal, Professor Johnson, with the assistance of the PSC, had also filed a grievance relating to his annual evaluation.

In October, the private counsel who represented Professor Johnson in connection with the appeal [Robert M. Rosen, Rosen, Leff, Esqs.] submitted a detailed memorandum to the President, the Chancellor, the Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, the Vice Chancellor for Faculty and Staff Relations and me setting forth certain alleged irregularities in the denial of promotion.  My receipt of that memorandum was the first time I had ever heard of Professor Johnson.  After reading the memorandum, I requested and carefully reviewed Professor Johnson's personnel file.  I then reported to the Chancellor that some of the points raised by Professor's Johnson's counsel concerned me and could be the basis for a successful grievance.

At around that time, a number of reports began to appear in the press and elsewhere about this matter.  Letters also came in from faculty (at Brooklyn College and elsewhere), students and other interested persons - both supporting and opposing Professor Johnson's promotion.  The Chancellor concluded that it was not in the best interest of Brooklyn College and the University to allow this dispute to fester over a prolonged period while Professor Johnson pursued his legal remedies.  He therefore directed me to get in touch with Professor Johnson's counsel to see if there was some way to resolve this matter.  About that time, but unrelated to those discussions, the President of Brooklyn College reappointed Professor Johnson for next year, contrary to the recommendation of the History Department.

In early February the University reached a settlement with Professor Johnson that provided for the appointment by the Chancellor of a "special faculty committee" to make a recommendation to him concerning Professor Johnson's promotion and tenure.  Since the settlement was reached outside the grievance process, and Professor Johnson was not represented by the PSC in connection with the settlement, it was not necessary to follow the precise details of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, although the intent was to incorporate the basic thrust of a grievance settlement.  However, the Chancellor wished to include for consideration for service on the special faculty committee a broader array of faculty than was on the CUNY/PSC list, especially in the field of history and related disciplines.  Furthermore, the Chancellor wanted to personally select the members to satisfy himself that the committee was composed of the most distinguished faculty possible. He ultimately chose Pamela Sheingorn, Professor of History at Baruch College and Executive Director of the Doctoral Program in Theatre at the Graduate Center, David Reynolds, University Distinguished Professor of English at Baruch College and Louis Masur, Professor of History and Chair of the History Department at The City College.  There surely cannot be any questions as to the competence or integrity of such a committee. Furthermore, the Chancellor had no contact with the members of the special faculty committee until after they had completed their work.  The Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs asked them to serve on the committee, and I provided them with a memorandum setting forth their duties.

The special faculty committee reviewed the entire record, conferred and voted unanimously to recommend that Professor Johnson be granted tenure and be promoted to full professor.  No one at the Central Office had any substantive communication with any member concerning the merits of this matter.  The committee operated independently and its conclusion was entirely its own.

Thereafter, the Chancellor reviewed the record, which included reading one of Professor Johnson's books, and interviewed Professor Johnson.  He reached the same conclusion as the committee.  As the Chancellor stated at the meeting of the Board of Trustees, although collegiality is a factor that may be considered in connection with promotion and tenure decisions, he did not find compelling and objective evidence of a major problem in that regard sufficient to trump Professor Johnson's truly outstanding record of scholarship, teaching and other aspects of service. That decision was based entirely on the merits--without regard for the views of anyone else, either within or without the University.