Weinstein debacle has implications for all state faculty

28 Oct 2011 2:00 PM | Glenn Miller
You might have read recent news coverage of what happened to former University of Nevada, Reno, German professor Valerie Weinstein. Although accurate, it doesn’t include all the details of the story that matter to Nevada faculty members statewide.

Weinstein, a tenured associate professor in the German studies program (Foreign Language Department), was laid off as part of the closure of the program, for budgetary reasons, and took a non-tenure track position as a visiting professor at Tulane University. At UNR she taught German, but also was the Director of the Gender, Race and Identity (GRI) program the last year she was here. She also taught in the Core Humanities program.

Unbeknownst to pretty much everyone, right before Weinstein stopped receiving a salary (end of June), one of the lecturers in the GRI program tendered her resignation, and will be leaving in December. The administration then upgraded that position to a tenure-track position, and is offering it as a half-time GRI faculty position with the other half in some other department in the College of Liberal Arts.

Weinstein found out about this and sent an email to the UNR President and Provost asking how this could happen, since it had been her understanding that such an upgrade from a lectureship was not going to happen. She had been offered a UNR lectureship in foreign languages, but at a reduced salary and higher teaching load. She declined the offer of the lecturer position.

Thus, a tenure-track position became available that Weinstein could have easily filled, but it was not offered to her, nor was she notified of the position availability. The UNR Faculty Senate and chapter of NFA, both of which Weinstein belonged to when she was here, have gotten involved.

The Dean of the College of Liberal arts, as well as the Provost, have argued that the tenure-track position is new and has nothing to do with Weinstein. It was created, they say, after she left, meaning it did not qualify as continuous employment. In addition, they claim slight differences between the new position and her previous one, so, they argue, it is not a strict code violation.   

The UNR Faculty Senate began a vigorous debate on the issue and ultimately asked for a special meeting of the senate, held Thursday, Oct. 13. The UNR President, Provost and Dean of Liberal Arts were present and made their case, followed by questions from the senate. The administrators left after about an hour, and the senate discussed the issue for another 45 minutes, ultimately voting 16 to 9 in favor of requesting that the UNR Administration offer the position to Weinstein at her previous rank and salary. On Monday, Oct. 17, Faculty Senate Chair David Ryfe sent a letter to the administration making this request.

The majority of the faculty senate basically felt that, at the very least, the spirit of the Nevada System of Higher Education Code was not being followed, and an opportunity to show support for tenure had been missed. Weinstein clearly was qualified for the position, had already gone through tenure and is a high-quality scholar.

The code requires that, when a faculty member is laid off due to financial reasons, that position cannot be filled for at least two years. Section 5.4.7(c) of the NSHE Code states:
“If a faculty member is laid off for the above stated reasons, the faculty member's position will not be filled within a period of two years, unless a reasonable attempt to offer reappointment has been unsuccessful or reappointment has been offered in writing and the faculty member has not accepted the same in writing within 20 calendar days of the receipt of the offer."
The code does not specify what “the position” means, so the administration can simply close one position and open another in order to rehire for that position when it so desires.

In this case a lecturer in the GRI program had resigned, and the position was upgraded to a tenure-track position, and so it was “different.”  Weinstein was clearly qualified for this tenure-track position, but had left the university for about a month, when this position was opened and a search initiated.

During these times when faculty are being dismissed, this is an angle most of us failed to imagine. The NSHE Code can be interpreted either way, and, in the absence of a legal fight, the administration gets to make the interpretation.  

The outcome of this situation was revealed in a memo sent to Faculty Senate Chair David Ryfe at an Oct. 20 faculty senate meeting.The administration denied the request to offer the position to former Associate Professor Valerie Weinstein.