Criteria for tenure tightened

GW is changing tenure requirements for professors, a decision the University’s top academic administrator attributed to a school-wide demand for a higher caliber of faculty.

Provost Steven Lerman said each new tenure application must include five external letters of recommendation, an increase from the previous requirement of two. Beyond the letters, Lerman was unable to provide specific guidelines GW will use to evaluate faculty seeking tenure.

The baseline criteria for promotion and tenure at GW, he said, is excellence in teaching, scholarship and service.

Tenure guarantees professors their employment and shows the University has made a “major commitment” to them, Dean Lynn Goldman of the School of Public Health and Health Services said. It is especially valuable in times of economic downturn, reassuring tenured professors they are not at risk for losing their jobs.

Lerman said the University wants the quality of faculty to align with the rising academic caliber of admitted students. The changes to tenure requirements are part of a long-term goal expressed by many top University administrators.

Requiring each school to have tenured professors results in each school dedicating more time and resources to faculty growth. In return, it fosters a dedicated, steadfast faculty pool.

These increased standards may prove problematic for five of GW’s schools as the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Education and Human Development and all three schools within the Medical Center – the School of Nursing, the School of Public Health and Health Services and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences – are below the required 75 percent standard for tenured faculty. This standard, set by the Faculty Senate, is effectively a guideline as no punishments are doled out to schools or administrators who allow their colleges to fall below the standard.

Goldman said she is not worried that the school will have more difficulty reaching tenure with 75 percent of the faculty.

While an SPHHS committee is currently still reworking its tenure guidelines, she sees the changes as more of clarifications for professors than increases in selectivity.

“The way we’re judging people isn’t that different than in the past, it’s just clearer,” Goldman said. “[Professors that already have tenure] would have done just as well if we had already adopted the new criteria.”

She added that there will be greater emphasis on scholarship and what the faculty member contributes through research and publishing.

“We’re taking a more careful review of the contributions for what the faculty is contributing to the generation of knowledge,” she said.

The point of this clarification is to better professors’ abilities to assess if seeking tenure is the right path for them, and similarly for the University to better judge if the faculty member in question is worth the effort of forging a long-term relationship.

“Tenure can be trickier than a marriage, it’s a lot harder to get a divorce,” she said.

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