Most-ever professors given chance at tenure

The number of faculty positions with a chance at tenure has reached an all-time high this year, as GW looks to lure top scholars with more permanent positions.

Nearly 79 percent of full-time professors this year have or are in line for tenure – a rise bolstered by a 15 percent drop in the number of professors who have no shot at a permanent teaching job, according to data released this month.

The shift away from hiring professors who sign short-term contracts and may focus on more teaching than research signals a heavy financial commitment to recruit top faculty – winding down decades of GW lagging on academic spending compared to competitors.

“I think this reflects this part of this university’s evolutionary pact, in which we are growing the tenure-track faculty. This has been due to very successful hiring in a number of schools,” Provost Steven Lerman said at a Faculty Senate meeting this month.

Lerman said the growth mostly can be explained on a school-by-school basis. For example, he said, the GW School of Business and the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences filled non-tenure track faculty positions with tenure track professors once their contracts ended last year.

The University has also tried to hold colleges in line by requiring in the Faculty Code that 75 percent of full-time faculty slots to be filled by tenure-track professors.

The Graduate School of Education and Human Development and the School of Public Health and Health Services have faced flak from the Faculty Senate over the past decade for failing to bring up the number of tenure track faculty, partially because they have not received sufficient University funding.

As a result, the University’s expenses on academic support has nearly doubled to $549 million over the past decade, according to financial reports.

Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz said the strategy aligned with the University’s rising ambitions, including committing in its strategic plan $50 million to $100 million to new interdisciplinary faculty positions over the next 10 years.

“Fundamentally, we want to bring the University to a new plateau and we believe by doing this strategy, we will do that. It’s not going to happen in one year, but if you look at it over time, we’re on a good path to that,” he said.

The University also has demanded higher standards from tenured professors as it looks to raise its research profile by increasing the number of external letters of recommendation and more highly scrutinizing published research. Professors can apply for tenure after five years on the tenure track, when a committee of department colleagues will recommend or reject their efforts to deans and the provost’s office.

Each school submitted its wish list of faculty hires to the provost’s office this month.

The number of adjunct professors has also dropped slightly, though part-time teachers still make up about 72 percent of the University’s faculty core.

GW’s focus on bringing in more tenure-accruing professors also bucks a trend in higher education, where the academic workforce has seen its ranks of tenured professors slim by a quarter over the past 35 years.

Nationally, the number of faculty working full-time but off tenure track has risen from 10 percent to 15 percent over that time period, which has had negative implications for budding professors but helped colleges endure troubled finances.

Offering outside scholars the shot at tenure-track positions has also been the University’s best recruiting tool, Dianne Martin, vice provost for faculty affairs, said.

“From a University quality perspective, if we are trying to attract really high quality – particularly new, hot-shot research faculty that will help propel GW higher – we have to be offering them tenure track positions because that’ll make us more competitive,” she said.

Cory Weinberg contributed to this report.

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