Professors play tenure waiting game

After a yearlong process, the Board of Regents will vote on this year’s applicants May 13.

Danielle Nordine

Almost 100 faculty members are waiting to see the results of the nearly yearlong process of applying for tenure, which ends May 13 when the Board of Regents votes on this yearâÄôs applicants. If a professor is not hired with tenure, he or she has six years to become tenured. If not, the professor is given one final year and then has to leave the University of Minnesota, Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Arlene Carney said. âÄúItâÄôs a time of real stress for assistant professors without tenure,âÄù she said. âÄúBoth teaching and scholarship are taken very seriously and contribute toward the final tenure review.âÄù Tenure has many benefits for those accepted, including an essentially indefinite contract and academic freedom, which gives professors the freedom to pursue more controversial research or work without a fear of retribution, Carney said. âÄúYou end up thinking a lot less about whoâÄôs going to view your research in certain ways, and you can teach and do research without that worry all the time,âÄù said Lee Penn, associate professor of chemistry, who was tenured in 2008. The tenure process was revised in 2007 to include more rigorous standards for evaluation, Carney said. For many applicants, the process began as early as last May, when they started preparing a dossier of their accomplishments in teaching, research and service. The package, which can be more than 100 pages long, includes a curriculum vitae, which is a detailed résumé listing information and three narrative essays for the applicantâÄôs research, teaching and services, such as participation in University committees. Data from student and peer evaluations are included in the package as well, Carney said. After the dossiers are prepared by candidates, they are sent to six to seven external reviewers from other colleges at the end of the spring semester and are usually returned with comments by August, Carney said. Tenured professors in each department then vote on applicants in the fall, after which the chair or head of the department reviews the applications and makes recommendations. The applications will move to the promotion and tenure committees within each college for another review. The dean of the college reviews and sends the dossiers to the provostâÄôs office, which does the final review before applicants are sent to the Board of Regents for approval, which this year will take place May 13. âÄúWe really rely primarily on the provost and department chairs to decide what they need and to find the people who meet those criteria,âÄù Board of Regents Chairman Clyde Allen said. If a professor is denied tenure, he or she is able to file an appeal, which goes through the UniversityâÄôs senate judicial committee. The economy wonâÄôt have an effect on the number of professors offered tenure this year, Allen and Carney said. âÄúWe have a set of standards and we abide by those,âÄù Carney said. âÄúIf people meet the standards then they should be able to achieve tenure or promotion.âÄù Tenure also includes a promotion to associate professor, and applicants must show they are already on track to be promoted to full professor, which includes more extensive research and positive teaching reviews, she said. Even after professors are tenured, there is a review process that helps the University keep tabs on professors and make sure they are still contributing positively to the University, Allen said. âÄúItâÄôs stressful being reviewed under any circumstance,âÄù Penn said. âÄúI always had the feeling that if I didnâÄôt get tenured, there are many other things IâÄôd like to do, but a lot of people do view it as the holy grail of academia.âÄù