Faculty Senate reviews policies, requirements in tenure process

The Faculty Senate is currently looking into how the tenure process works at TCU because of inconsistencies found in the system and problems with the faculty grievance process, Faculty Senate members said.A Rube Goldberg machine, which uses a complicated process to accomplish a simple task, illustrates the current faculty grievance process, said Stuart Youngblood, chairman of the Faculty Senate Tenure Promotion and Grievance Committee.

The grievance policy, which is outlined in five pages of the Handbook for Faculty and Staff, is incredibly hard to understand and only allows faculty who were denied tenure to complain about procedural errors, Youngblood said.

Youngblood, also a professor of management, said it was important to have a simpler policy to lessen the number of faculty grievances filed regarding tenure decisions, even though there are typically only a few cases a year.

Youngblood told the Faculty Senate earlier this month that the committee aims to have a proposal for a simpler policy by the end of this academic year.

In addition to clarifying the grievance policy, the committee hopes to clarify the university-level expectations of service and advising requirements faculty must meet to receive tenure, Youngblood said.

The committee conducted a survey of each academic department to review requirements for service and advising, and the results will be presented at the March 30 Faculty Senate meeting, Youngblood said.

The Handbook for Faculty and Staff defines service as participation in organizations related to a faculty member’s discipline and performing well in non-teaching university assignments.

“The Faculty Staff Handbook applies to everyone, but not every department follows it exactly,” Youngblood said.

In fact, definitions of service in department tenure policy statements vary from judging science fairs to serving on department committees.

Nadia Lahutsky, Faculty Senate member and associate professor of religion, said it does not matter if there are different policies as long as faculty are doing their part to make the university work. She cautioned that first-year faculty members need to be protected from unfair service requirements.

“I’ve talked to faculty who have been here a week and are expected to start advising,” Lahutsky said.

Youngblood said clarifying elements of the tenure policy would help faculty avoid the need to use the complicated grievance process.

Tenure, which is typically coupled with promotion at TCU, is a contract that grants faculty members job security, Youngblood said.

“Tenure gives faculty security that they won’t lose their job for expressing a point of view,” Youngblood said. “It takes a monumental effort on the part of institutions to get rid of tenured faculty.”

Lahutsky said, “If you go back far enough, you used to get tenure for being here ‘x’ number of years.”

For junior faculty to receive tenure at TCU, they must annually meet standards outlined in the Handbook for Faculty and Staff and further explained in department policy statements.

Nowell Donovan, provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, said TCU uses a teacher-scholar model that emphasizes teaching as the most important standard, followed closely by research and service.

But because one discipline may be fundamentally different from another, each department is given the right to interpret tenure standards into department-level criteria, Donovan said.

“You can’t have a one-size-fits-all for all departments,” Donovan said.

So that tenure candidates fully understand what is expected of them, faculty who already have tenure write letters evaluating a candidate’s progress each year, Donovan said.

These letters are given to the department chair and then sent to the non-tenured faculty member, he said.

He also said the department chair is expected to meet annually with candidates to review their progress and make recommendations.

Youngblood said department chairs recommend faculty for tenure to the college dean, who makes the decision whether to recommend the candidate to the provost.

“At the department level, these are people you work with who are friends,” Youngblood said. “The college can look across departments and maintain equity.”

Youngblood said inconsistency is why the Tenure Promotion and Grievance Committee is looking into how tenure policy actually functions.