Academic Staff Appointments
This document provides a summary of the law in this area and answers questions frequently asked of attorneys in the Office of General Counsel. However, the information presented here is intended for informational purposes only and nothing in this document should be construed or relied upon as legal advice. The Office of General Counsel or your Campus Legal Counsel should be consulted regarding the specific facts and circumstances associated with any legal matter.
Academic staff are professional and administrative employees with duties and types of appointments that are primarily associated with higher education and its administration. Subject to the responsibilities and powers of the Board of Regents, the President of the UW System, and the chancellor and faculty of the institution, academic staff are active participants in the immediate governance of and policy development for the institution. Academic staff members have the primary responsibility for the formulation and review of all policies and procedures concerning academic staff members, including academic staff personnel matters. Similar to the faculty, academic staff members have the right to organize themselves in a manner they determine and to select their representatives to participate in institutional governance.
Types of Appointments
The Board of Regents has delegated appointment of academic staff members to appropriate officials at the institutions. There are two categories of academic staff appointments:
- Administrative appointments are for officers involved in policy development or execution and persons involved in directing, organizing or supervising higher education-related activities.
- Professional appointments are for employees involved in the guidance or counseling of students; assisting faculty in research, public service or instruction; and in duties primarily associated with institutions of higher education.
Titles associated with these appointment categories are contained in Unclassified Title Guidelines #1, 2 and 5.
The duration of academic staff appointments can be described as fixed term, probationary, or indefinite. Each institution has guidelines concerning the categories of academic staff positions that are appropriately designated as fixed term, probationary or indefinite. Academic staff appointments are limited to an operational area, as specified at the time of appointment, and do not carry rights beyond that operational area.
See UWS 10.01. See this link for all future references to Chapter UWS 10.
Fixed Term Appointments
Fixed term appointments are the most widely used academic staff appointments; they are for contract terms specified in the letter of appointment. They may be renewable at the option of the employing institution and carry no expectation of reemployment beyond the stated term. Unless otherwise specified, fixed term appointments are for the period of one year. An academic staff member in a new appointment may be given a period within which the employee may be dismissed without appeal at the discretion of the appointing authority; this period is not called a probationary appointment.
Probationary appointments lead to review and a decision on an indefinite appointment. These appointments are not to exceed seven years in a full-time position. Performance evaluations are conducted annually and appointments are renewed based on the evaluations.
Indefinite appointments (i.e., ones with permanent status and for an unlimited term) may be granted to probationary academic staff members, according to policies adopted at each institution. Indefinite appointments may also be granted to academic staff members holding fixed term appointments, thus changing their appointment. Indefinite appointments may be terminated only for cause or for reasons of budget or program.
Letters of Appointment
In addition to specifying the term of the appointment, letters of appointment for academic staff members should contain the terms and conditions of the appointment, the salary, the general position responsibilities, the definition of operational area and the length of probationary appointment, if appropriate. The institutional and system regulations, rules and procedures relating to academic staff appointments must accompany the letter. When significant changes in position responsibilities occur, a new letter of appointment should be sent.
Job Security for Fixed Term Academic Staff
Each institution has policies and procedures regarding the issue of job security and nonreappointment for fixed term academic staff members who have served the institution for a substantial period of time. As required by Unclassified Personnel Guideline (UPG) #3, these policies provide for periodic review for multiple year or indefinite appointments. See institutional policies and UPG #3.
Nonrenewal of Academic Staff Fixed Term Appointments
Notice of nonrenewal of a renewable academic staff appointment must be given with a specific notice period, depending on the length of service in accordance with UWS Section 10.05, UPG #3 and institutional policies. Note that UPG #3 extends the notice period for certain long-term renewable academic staff members. A nonrenewed academic staff member may be entitled to request a statement of reasons and a review of the decision by a committee or hearing examiner as designated in the institutional procedures. The issue on review is whether the decision was based in a significant degree on one or more of the following prohibited factors:
- conduct, expressions or beliefs which are constitutionally protected or actions which are consistent with an appropriate professional code of ethics;
- employment practices prohibited by state or federal law; or
- improper consideration of qualifications for renewal, including failure to follow procedures of the chancellor or Board.
If the appointment letter for a fixed term appointment states that renewal is not intended, no further notice of nonrenewal is required. See UWS Section 10.05 (1)(a). The process described in this paragraph does not apply to "no intent to renew" fixed term academic staff appointments.
Fixed term academic staff may be dismissed during the term of an appointment only for just cause. Indefinite academic staff may only be dismissed for just cause. Different procedures apply for academic staff members with fixed term appointments and those with indefinite appointments.
Dismissal of Academic Staff with Fixed Term Appointments
These procedures apply only for dismissal within the contractual term of the appointment. A nonrenewal, i.e. a failure to renew a contract at the end of its term, is not a dismissal.
A dismissal of an academic staff member is not effective until he/she has received written notification of specific charges and an opportunity for a hearing. If no hearing is requested, the dismissal is effective based on the notification of charges. If a hearing is held, the academic staff member has the right to present evidence and argument concerning the allegations. The decision on dismissal is made by the dean, director or designee, who also specifies the dismissal date if different from that in the written notification.
Dismissals for cause are appealable by filing an appeal with the hearing body established by institutional policies. The burden of proof as to just cause is on the administration. The academic staff member has the right to the names of witnesses and access to documents on which the dismissal is based, the right to counsel and to offer witnesses, the right to confront and cross examine witnesses, the right to a verbatim record of the hearing and the right to written findings of fact and a decision based on the hearing record. Additional procedural information is provided in UWS Chapter 11 and may be provided in institutional policies.
If the appeal proceeding is not concluded before the expiration date of the contractual appointment, the academic staff member may decide to carry the proceeding to its conclusion. The staff member has no right to have the appointment term extended beyond the original contract term, even if a favorable decision is issued. See UWS Section 11.11.
Dismissal of Academic Staff with Indefinite Appointments
Written charges for dismissal are required to initiate the dismissal process for an academic staff member with indefinite status. The charges are prepared by the dean or director, based upon an investigation and a determination that dismissal would be warranted if the charges are true. During the investigation phase, the dean or director shall give the academic staff member an opportunity to discuss the allegations informally.
Upon receipt of the written charges following investigation, the academic staff member may request a hearing before a hearing body established according to institutional policies. Due process and procedural guarantees for the hearing process are specified in UWS Section 11.05, 11.06, and 11.10 and in institutional policies. After receiving a copy of the hearing body's findings and recommendations and reviewing arguments submitted by the parties, the chancellor shall issue a decision. The chancellor's decision is final, except upon appeal by the academic staff member, in which instance the Board of Regents reviews the case on the record.
Layoff of Academic Staff
A layoff is the suspension of an academic staff member's employment during the appointment period, for reasons of budget or program. A nonrenewal of a fixed term academic staff appointment for reasons of budget or program is not a layoff. Each institution has procedures for an impartial review of layoffs for academic staff members with fixed term and probationary appointments. The Board of Regents does not need to declare an institutional financial emergency for the layoff of an academic staff member.
At the end of the appropriate notice period, the academic staff member is placed on layoff status, which grants certain rights. Where layoffs occur for reasons of budget or program, no person may be employed in the same operational area within three years to perform reasonably comparable duties without the laid-off staff member first being offered the position. See UWS Chapter 12.
Academic staff with indefinite appointments have greater procedural protections. See UWS Section 12.05.
Complaints, Discipline, and Grievances
Each institution has policies and procedures for the receipt of allegations made by persons other than the supervisor of an academic staff member whose conduct violates university rules or policies but which is not serious enough to warrant dismissal proceedings. Academic staff member's due process rights are set forth in these institutional policies. The procedures provide for investigation of the alleged conduct and appropriate resolution of the matter. See UWS Chapter 13.
Each institution has policies and procedures for academic staff members to file grievances. Procedures include designation of an individual or a body to investigate and recommend solutions to the chancellor if the problem cannot be resolved at a lower level. Some policies establish deadlines for the filing of grievances as well as definitions of matters that are subject to the grievance procedure.
Sick Leave and Vacation
As always, please consult your institution's human resources office, legal counsel and your institution's policies and procedures for any questions regarding academic staff appointments.