Professors push for uniform tenure rules

Facing tougher standards from new deans, professors across the University are worried that benchmarks for tenure at each school have not been clearly defined.

Michael Castleberry, a graduate school professor and chair of the Faculty Senate’s executive committee, said at the organization’s first meeting that professors feared a miscommunication could shut them out of lifetime appointments to their positions.

“There exists the possibility that a candidate will be expected to have done something they did not know was a demand, or to be required to meet a standard they did not know they were required to meet,” Castleberry said.

Deans oversee one-third of the approval process for tenure-seeking professors, who must also present their research and personal reviews to department heads and tenure committees. Each school has a detailed and specific tenure process, which can shift as new deans look to improve their school’s academics, Castleberry said.

Three professors who were recently denied tenure appealed the Faculty Senate decision this summer, a figure Castleberry said is on par with past years.

“[Professors] shouldn’t be blindsided when it comes to tenure promotion by having a dean with a different set of items or issues they’ve never heard of,” he said.

Provost Steven Lerman said he agreed discussion needed to improve between departments, committees and deans, but said only 2 percent of cases that cross his desk spark disagreements among department chairs, deans and tenure committees.

Professor of decision sciences and psychology Philip Wirtz said the issue of tenure was vital to the morale of professors, who fear having their tenure chances squelched by an unfavorable review from a new dean after years of positive marks from old leadership.

“In the short run, we have a lot of people very worried right now,” Wirtz said. “I think we need to figure out what we’re going to do about that.”

Deans including Doug Guthrie from the GW School of Business, Paul Schiff Berman from the GW Law School and Michael Feuer from the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, have all been on the job for fewer than three years.

The University has also ramped up its hiring in recent years, adding 10 percent to its full-time faculty core over the last five years.

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