GW fails to meet tenure requirement for third straight year

Media Credit: Anthony Peltier | Staff Photographer

Harald Griesshammer, a faculty senator, said the University’s failure to meet the requirement for 75 percent of all faculty to be tenured or tenure track limits the research GW can put out.

Updated: April 18, 2022 at 5:40 p.m.

Officials have failed to meet a Faculty Code clause requiring 75 percent of regular faculty to be tenured or on the tenure track for the third straight year.

Faculty senators have asked the Board of Trustees to address officials’ failure to meet the requirement after only 73.5 percent of professors were tenured or on the tenure track in 2021. Faculty senators said the shortage of tenured faculty – a figure that dropped from 75.2 percent in 2018 to 73.5 percent in 2021 – harms students’ learning experience and GW’s reputation because full-time, tenured faculty conducts research that improves their teaching.

Provost Chris Bracey said at a Faculty Senate meeting earlier this month that the percentage of faculty on the tenure track is an indicator of academic strength, but the Faculty Code tenure requirement is currently “aspirational” because the percentage has remained below 75 percent every year since 2019. He said officials approved 44 new tenure track searches last summer to help reach the 75 percent tenure requirement.

“I’m confident that we’ll see the beginning of an upward trend with next year’s data and see the reestablishment of our Faculty Code’s recommended ratios in the out years,” Bracey said at the meeting.

He said faculty recommends other nontenure track faculty for tenure track positions, which the Board of Trustees approves them.

“The total number of tenured or tenure track faculty is a function of the permanent resource base of the University,” Bracey said in an email.

Faculty senators said trustees should create a plan to increase the number of tenured and tenure track faculty to reach the 75 percent minimum in the code.

Nicholas Anastacio | Graphics Editor

Harald Griesshammer, a faculty senator and tenured professor of physics, said the trustees committed to the 75 percent requirement through their approval of the Faculty Code and should grant more faculty funding for salaries to reach the requirement.

“I’m not adherent to the philosophy that you can be cavalier about what you’re writing down and then just decide that it really doesn’t matter that much and follow some laws more than others,” he said.

Griesshammer said failure to meet the requirement limits “high impact” research at the University – which tenured and tenure track faculty often conduct.

He said recruiting new faculty members for tenure track positions also gives the University the opportunity to increase race and gender diversity among faculty.

Officials launched a search in January to hire a dozen new Columbian College of Arts and Science faculty from historically marginalized backgrounds as part of its Inclusive Excellence Initiative.

“That is not just a mandate, we need to do this, but it’s also actually a positive signal to the community,” Griesshamer said. “We’re not doing this just because we need to, we actually want to take this as an opportunity.”

Griesshammer said tenured professors make a commitment to invest their time in the University, which encourages them to engage with students in the classroom and in research settings on a more consistent basis. He said tenured professors, who spend more time at the University, have greater insight and experience on how to properly address problems impacting their departments.

“Each one of us is a little bit of an institutionalized memory of the department and the University,” he said.

Griesshammer said the physics department’s “influx of new talent” during the past 10 years increased the number of tenured and tenure track faculty members from six to 19. He said the new, younger faculty members can engage with students in the classroom to “attract” undergraduates to study physics.

“The number of undergraduates in physics has grown in step with the number of younger faculty who actually did a really good job to talk and attract those people,” he said.

Jamie Cohen-Cole, a faculty senator and associate professor of American studies, said the University needs to prioritize meeting the tenure requirement because failing to follow the Faculty Code implies that it can be “ignored” when conditions like the 75 percent requirement are disobeyed.

Cohen-Cole said tenured faculty teach all courses that the American studies department offers in most years, but the department still faces issues like staffing shortages, making it difficult to offer more courses in the department. He said despite having a larger ratio of tenured faculty compared to other departments at GW, the department still needs more professors to meet student demands for American studies courses.

“GWU’s ability to recruit and retain top quality researchers and teachers depends on it consistently maintaining its reputation for fulfilling its commitments to being a tenure supporting institution,” Cohen-Cole said in an email.

Cohen-Cole said regardless of how controversial the subject, tenure enables faculty to teach “honestly” without fear of University chastisement. He said tenured professors, who can only be fired for severe causes, can freely voice their concerns and criticize the University when it is not in accordance with its strategic mission with little fear of termination.

“When GWU has a declining percentage of tenure/tenure track faculty as a portion of either the regular faculty or if the nonregular faculty are allowed to grow in any significant measure, it will harm GWU’s rank and reputation,” Cohen-Cole said in an email.

This post has been updated to correct the following:

The Hatchet incorrectly reported that tenured faculty teach all courses that the American studies department offers in most years. Tenured and tenure track faculty teach all courses that the American studies department offers in most years. We regret this error. 

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