Regents approve faculty tenure

Getting tenure is very important to faculty, giving them academic freedom and future job security.

The Board of Regents Faculty, Staff and Student affairs committee voted unanimously to approve the tenure and promotion of 93 assistant professors on Thursday.

Tenure, considered to be the most important decision and promotion in an academic’s career, gives a professor academic freedom and future job security.

Doug Geers of the School of Music was one of the professors granted tenure yesterday.

“For me, tenure is in a way a gift from the University, saying we trust you and we believe in you,” Geers said.

What is tenure?

Tenure is a promotion usually associated with a rank change from assistant to associate professor. In most cases, six years after entering employment at the University, a professor goes up for tenure. The professor must submit a dossier outlining all of their research, publications, teaching evaluations and service to the academic community. The dossier moves through the professor’s department, college, dean and finally to the provost’s office. If a professor is granted tenure, he or she is given a raise, a higher level of academic freedom and indefinite (barring major complications or discipline) job security. If a professor’s tenure is denied, he or she is given a terminal year, after which he or she leaves the University.

View a list of promoted professors on pages 6-12 of this report (PDF).

Because it is very difficult to remove a tenured professor from his or her position, most professors are able to keep their jobs indefinitely, if they choose.

In an uncertain economy and current job market, Geers said the idea of being able to “know despite what happens politically and economically in the state or in the country, that this job will likely still be there,” is a great feeling.

On the flip side, one aspect of tenure that is rarely talked about is what happens if a professor is denied tenure.

Jacqueline Jacob, professor of animal science, was denied tenure last spring.

“I disagreed with the decision, so I appealed,” she said. “The second time around they pretty much stuck to what they said the first time around, so I’m terminated after June 8.”

Jacob said she thinks the decision to deny her tenure may be because the reviewers did not think her extension program was strong enough because they may not have understood it.

“Poultry is a unique area to work with,” she said. “And I felt that the reviewers at the admin level did not understand what’s involved in working with such a diverse clientele.”

Jacob does not know what she will do next, but will probably not stay in higher education and academia.

Although Jacob’s experience has left her disillusioned with the tenure process, she said she has enjoyed her work at the University and does not harbor ill-will toward her college or department.

Geers said he was reviewed annually by his college and department, “so getting tenure or not getting tenure hopefully shouldn’t be a surprise to somebody,” he said, adding he was still relieved when he heard it became official.

Waiting to hear about tenure, Geers said, is kind of similar to dating someone and waiting for him or her to “pop the question.”

In a field like music, instead of being judged on productive research the professors are judged on “creative activity,” so in Geers case – compositions.

Just as a research professor would be judged based on which journal published his or her article, music professors would be judged based on who performed the composition as well as the venue it was performed.

Last spring, the Board of Regents and the Faculty Senate approved an updated version of the tenure code.

The new code is more specific about the expectations for tenure and promotion, said Arlene Carney, vice provost for faculty affairs.

The updated version also specifies that tenured professors are expected to eventually be promoted to full professor, the highest rank.

Carney said the updated tenure standards will go into effect for faculty hired for fiscal year 2008.

Provost Tom Sullivan talked extensively during the meeting about the rigor of the post-tenure reviews that faculty are subject to on an annual basis.

If a tenured faculty member is found to be below standards, he or she will be given counseling and advice, Sullivan said, to try to get the person back on track.

Regent Dean Johnson said there is a disconnect in the public’s perception of tenured professors.

“Honestly, I thought once you hit that magic mark, it was just, get ready for the rocking chair,” he said.

Emma Carew is a senior staff reporter.