Tenure in the Faculty Blogosphere

“The tenure process is intensive and demanding.” So say Richard Danner and Barbara Bintliff in the article that Steven B quotes in his Academic Freedom Quiz post (Richard A. Danner and Barbara Bintliff in Legal Reference Services Quarterly, V. 25 (4) 2006, pp. 17). And so say many in the faculty blogosophere in this tenure season.

Inside Higher Ed (“the online source for news, opinion and jobs for all of higher education”) has written a lot lately about tenure. The most compelling story, Scott Jaschik’s April 1 story “Changing the Tenure Rules — Without Telling Anyone?” describes some assistant professors at Baylor University who were up for tenure this year:

“[S]everal university officials said [that] senior administrators have come to believe that departmental standards were not rigorous enough and so applied new standards, which have never been shared with faculty leaders, let alone with those who submitted tenure portfolios under the old standards. Largely as a result, tenure denials at Baylor this year — which have been about 10 percent annually in recent years — shot up to 40 percent,” including six of the nine women up for review.

Jaschik highlights the case of Rene D. Massengale, an assistant professor of biology. Although she won grants and published many journal articles, and “… thought she had prepared a portfolio reflecting the latest requirements, … [s]he said that she received a ‘form letter’ from the university … saying she had not sufficiently excelled in research.” Jaschik notes that “[m]any in the University” believe that Baylor 2012, an effort to increase the University’s focus on research, might conflict with its historical teaching mission.

This case and others are being discussed at length in the faculty blogosphere.

Tenured Radical comments on the Inside Higher Ed article, wondering about the effect the tenure process has on the untenured: “what is the effect of the tenure process on young scholars, and how do we protect their academic freedom?” She writes about the tenure process in a March 18 blog entry, where she describes her experience with tenure (not bad) and promotion to full professor (painful) and suggests faculty unions as a better alternative to tenure.

For a personal look at the tenure process, read Mommy/Prof’s thread about tenure, in which she talks about the anxiety leading up to the tenure decision, a very quick post when she finds out (“I was denied tenure. The poor dean was really uncomfortable. But I didn’t cry, so I guess I can at least be proud of that.”), followed by the fallout from not getting tenure. Mommy/Prof is a pseudonym for a “tenure-track college person at Central State, in a Suburb of Mid-Sized City” and her personal story (start at the bottom) is heartbreaking.

Reassigned Time writes about the issue from the tenure track, which is to say, from the untenured perspective. She says on the one hand that tenure will not change her life much, but it might make her feel more part of her institution and thus more likely to work to effect positive change. Her list of positives is a different twist on the issue and speaks to the benefit of tenure to the institution rather than to the individual. Finally, Reassigned Time notes that she is one of the few (only?) who is writing about the issue without the benefit of tenure.

Finally, for an administrator’s perspective, check out Dean Dad’s post at Confessions of a Community College Dean. He talks about the pitfalls of transparency — in order to know exactly how the tenure decisions have been made, in this case — which “would involve letting the entire college community know every perceived shortcoming of every denied candidate.” Which, in turn, would not make anyone feel better. Instead, his solution to the tenure question: “… finite but renewable multiyear contracts, with performance expectations (and job protections, such as academic freedom) written explicitly into the contract language.”

All of these posts point to many more posts about tenure, for and against, and the comments to each of the posts both rail against and support tenure … so if you are interested in what folks in the professoriate are thinking, this is a great topic to follow.

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