Faculty Senate discusses tenure policies

A resolution advocating the need for more thorough faculty evaluations of tenure candidates received unanimous support from the Faculty Senate at its meeting Friday.

The resolution came after a few members of the faculty were unexpectedly denied tenure status recently. Problems such as lack of specificity of tenure criteria at the department level and of timely feedback from faculty were cited as possible reasons for the tenure policy confusion.

Donald Lehman, executive vice president for Academic Affairs, said faculty members must understand tenure expectations from the moment of hire.

“When somebody is hired here … it is very clearly spelled out what the expectations are,” Lehman said.

Lehman said faculty members generally concentrate on teaching, scholarship and University service, and tenure candidates should know from the beginning where the emphasis in their work should lie.

Lehman said “ambiguous,” and “bland” evaluations by department chairs in annual reports of faculty members has contributed to faculty confusion. He emphasized the importance of critical and thorough reports to better enable faculty to correct possible problems.

Lehman said of department chairs, “You have a responsibility you have to deliver on it.”

About 25 candidates are reviewed for tenure each year, which, if attained, means the professors can work at the University indefinitely. Faculty members are hired for a three-year period, after which the University can keep the professor for an additional three years. After six years, a professor is eligible to undergo tenure review.

On average only one negative decision results, Lehman said.
Non-concurrence, or denial of tenure, occurs when a department’s dean cites “compelling” reasons why a candidate’s tenure should be denied.

Faculty members are judged on criteria including teaching ability and contribution to their field of service to the University. Professors can be denied tenure because of University financial constraints or program constraints, among other factors, according to a 1993 Faculty Senate memorandum.

Although some Faculty Senate members said professors might be surprised not to be granted tenure, University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said departmental restructuring leading to the inability to give out tenure can be predicted.

“There is a point presumably where hot water turns to steam,” he said. “I can’t help believe that people have a sense that these things don’t happen in the eleventh hour of the last day.”

The resolution presented Friday also called for greater emphasis of mid-term faculty evaluations, so tenure candidates can have the chance to alleviate possible promotional barriers before tenure review if need be. Faculty Senate members have been working on a tenure policy review since earlier this year.

As stated in the resolution, “Evaluations of annual reports of faculty members by their department chairs and deans … should provide accurate, timely and detailed information to faculty members regarding their progress (or lack thereof) toward meeting the applicable criteria for tenure and/or promotion.”

Faculty Senate Chair Lilien Robinson said the resolution served to reiterate the current tenure policy and will serve as a reference point for future tenure decisions.

“This is what we refer back to,” Robinson said.

Robinson said the resolution was meant to “alert people to what our policies are and what the Faculty Code states.”

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