Faculty reviews tenure process

A Faculty Senate committee is reviewing faculty tenure and promotion policies after two cases of disagreement between departments and the administration in the past two years.

GW professors are initially hired for a three-year period, after which the University can keep the professor for another three years. The professor is then eligible to undergo a review to become a tenured faculty member, who can stay on indefinitely.

The committee is looking at how tenure cases are handled and if they are consistent within individual departments, Faculty Senate members said. Senate Chair Lilien Robinson said the committee is not working on a timeline but a report is likely to be released later this semester.

The Senate’s Standing Committee on Professional Ethics and Academic Freedom – headed by Ernest Englander, an associate professor – is leading the investigation.

All schools and departments currently use the same general criteria to evaluate professors for tenure and promotion including teaching ability, contribution to their field and service to the University. Because each department and school deals with different standards, individual schools and departments implement the criteria differently, officials said

“I think it’s like the Constitution – it’s not going to cover every thing,” Robinson said of the Faculty Code, which outlines tenure and promotion criteria.

For example, contribution to field of study might be defined by the publication of a book in one department, but by the publication of a certain number of journal papers in another department, although both departments are in the same school.

Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman said the Faculty Senate’s review of the tenure policy would more clearly define criteria to follow when evaluating a professor for promotion or tenure.

“They’re trying to make sure that across all schools the criteria for granting tenure are explicitly known,” Lehman said. “Are expectations clearly spelled out as to what needs to be met to be granted tenure?”

Lehman said the review would help prevent unnecessary cases of “non-concurrence,” which happen when a department disagrees with administrators when evaluating a professor for tenure or promotion. He said the procedure for tenure review is uniform, but the University must establish “rigorous and consistent standards” for evaluation.

In evaluating teaching ability, some schools and departments have administrators conduct teacher evaluations, while some have fellow faculty members fill out evaluations.

“There should be a certain degree of harmony for the expectations and standards of a teacher’s performance,” said Arthur Wilmarth, executive committee liaison for the Committee on Professional Ethics and Academic Freedom.

Currently, a department recommends to administrators that a professor be granted tenure or be promoted. Deans of the school and senior administrators then make the final decision.

Lehman said about 60 professors are recommended for tenure or promotion every year and “just about all” are granted promotion, with the exception of one or two. He said some years all professors recommended for tenure or a promotion receive it.

Non-concurrence cases are resolved by mediation by the Faculty Senate, but the candidate usually chooses to leave the University when it gets to this level, Wilmarth said. There have been two cases in the past two years in which faculty members have left because of failure to receive tenure – one each year, he said. The cases received attention from the Faculty Senate.

David Liban, former program director and professor for the electronic media program, left the University this fall while undergoing tenure review. The department almost unanimously supported his nomination for tenure, but the college committee and the dean did not, he said.

Lehman declined to comment on the case.

Liban said he left the school after four years of developing the electronic media program. He has since taken a position as a video editor but said he regretted leaving his students.

“I was thrilled to be offered a job so I could escape that whole process,” Liban said. “It is really an awful process if you don’t fit the bill, and GW became a very toxic place for me.”

Liban chose to leave the University before his non-concurrence case moved past the dean.

Robinson said the Faculty Senate may consider resolutions related to tenure after the report is published. All resolutions passed would go on to University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and the Board of Trustees. If cleared, the new rules would then become part of the Faculty Code.

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