Tenure practice pressured for re-evaluation

Calls to reform or eliminate tenure in academia have been ongoing for years. In late January, Ohio State University President Gordon Gee, the leader of the country’s largest university and a prominent figure among American college presidents, told The Associated Press in an interview that it’s time for universities to re-evaluate how they award tenure to their faculty.

The tenure process is currently under pressure because of abuses by a small percentage of faculty at universities nationwide, creating a negative view of the process overall, said Nowell Donovan, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at TCU.

To counter that pressure, Donovan said the university uses the process of post-tenure review, which exposes professors who abuse tenure in ways that could make them lose it.

Donovan said that, to his knowledge, no professor had lost tenure since he became provost, and he did not know if it had ever happened at the university. It has, however, happened at other universities, he said.

The university implemented the post-tenure review process in the 1990s, Donovan said. He said he did not know exactly what prompted the university to adopt its current post-tenure review policy.

Donovan said being granted tenure led to abuses by some professors, who would, for example, do only the minimum amount of research required to keep their tenure. Now, because of the post-tenure review process, professors who do that could be required to follow a development plan or face the possibility of losing tenure, he said.

The post-tenure review process is updated whenever it is deemed necessary to make the process as efficient as possible, Donovan said.

Paul Schrodt, associate professor of communication studies, said having a better post-tenure process is important.

“I think it continues to hold tenured faculty accountable for continuing to do a good job,” he said. “It does not.undermine the academic freedom.or job security that is afforded by tenure because it is still a very difficult and tedious process to fire a tenured faculty member.”

Donovan said abuses have been very rare among the university’s tenured faculty. Currently, 274 faculty members out of 831 have tenure, according to the provost’s office.

He said the University Advisory Committee received 20 tenure applications this year, the highest number since Donovan has been provost. The Board of Trustees will approve or deny the applications this week.

Sophomore strategic communication major Katie McGee took a class with a tenured professor last fall and described the professor’s teaching style as frustrating. She said the professor did not really teach the class at all and that students had to do presentations over textbook chapters that the professor took test material from.

McGee said she thought the professor’s teaching style could benefit from the post-tenure review process to encourage the professor to change it from assigning students chapter presentations to doing more lectures herself.

“It might be one of those situations where she feels like it’s an incredibly worthwhile student experience to learn from students, but maybe she needs someone to tell her in a formal process that it’s not doing anything for us,” McGee said.

A recent tenure issue at the university arose when a new director candidate for the School of Art wanted to be granted tenure upon hire, a practice which university policy prevents.

Schrodt, who was granted tenure last spring, said tenure not only gives professors academic freedom to publish views that may be unpopular with the professor’s university, but it gives them a high level of job security in the case of a controversy too. He said universities have policies against granting any potential faculty member tenure upon hire in order to protect themselves.

“Typically, most people.are being hired on the basis of a one- to two-day interview, tops,” Schrodt said. “When you grant someone tenure, you really are affording them a level of protection, a level of job security that you only want to afford someone that you really are confident you want to keep.”

Donovan said some professors consider tenure important because of the academic freedom that allows them to speak freely on issues, particularly politics.

Before reaching that secure point, professors must first earn it. Donovan said in order to earn tenure, professors start on a tenure track and usually take six years before being able to go up for tenure. Professors with more experience could go up for it in a shorter amount of time. Donovan said TCU tenure candidates should excel in the areas of teaching and scholarship. Other aspects, such as service, ethics and collegiality – how well one works with other professors – are also important.

Leo Nicolao, an assistant marketing professor on the tenure track, said there is an emphasis on research for tenure-track professors and that receiving tenure is important in order to continue doing that research and provided an incentive for future research.

“I’m just trying to be as research-active as possible,” he said. “I think that’s all you can actually hope for, that you’re very active and that your research gets published, and hopefully that’s a big step towards tenure.”