The announcement last May that Adjunct Associate Government Professor Melanye Price would not be offered tenure called into question the criteria required for tenure and highlighted the misconceptions surrounding the process.
During the 2008-2009 academic year, the University hired 20 tenured or tenure-track faculty, and it approved promotions and tenured appointments for 12 faculty members.
Over the next year, the University will be searching to fill nine tenure-track positions.
According to Joe Bruno, Vice President of Academic Affairs, over 50 percent of full-time faculty members are on the tenure-track and 75 percent of regular faculty members have either received tenure or are on the tenure-track.
“It’s a really stressful process to be sure, and it really begins the day you arrive,” said Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Robert Lane, who was given promotion with tenure last May.
The tenure process is a highly structured one. Tenure at the University is based on an evaluation of a candidate’s teaching, scholarly or artistic work, and colleagueship. When a new tenure-track faculty member is hired, the individual, usually given the title of assistant professor, begins with a four-year contract. The professor is reviewed after their first year of teaching and evaluated for reappointment in the third. If the outcome is satisfactory, the faculty member is given a second four-year contract, with another interim assessment scheduled in the fifth year. By the seventh year, the assistant professor must stand for tenure review.
In the sixth year of teaching, the faculty member will often submit a case for tenure consideration. Tenured faculty within the candidate’s department compile information for evaluating and reviewing the case. The Academic Council, made up of all tenured faculty members, elects a group of nine faculty members, known as the Advisory Committee. This committee meets weekly throughout the year to consider the case.
The Committee also takes student evaluations of professors heavily into account.
“I should also highlight the importance of student evaluations of teaching; Wesleyan students have historically provided fair and thoughtful evaluations and this is a vital part of the tenure deliberation,” Vice President for Academic Affairs Joseph Bruno wrote in an e-mail to The Argus.
In the end, the Advisory Committee presents a recommendation to the President on each case. Another committee elected by the Academic Council, known as the Review of Appeals Board (RAB), also reviews the recommendation. Ultimately, the President has full discretion in presenting a case to the Board of Trustees, who have the final vote.
“It is important to note that this is a faculty process driven by faculty legislation, as is typical at peer institutions,” Bruno wrote.
This process, however, needed to be revised last year when President Michael Roth sought a tenured appointment at the University. A new technique for evaluating this particular tenure case was created so that the ultimate referral to the Board of Trustees did not rest in the hands of the President, explained Chair of Faculty Rob Rosenthal.
“We’d never had a case before with the President [of the University] seeking tenure,” Rosenthal said. “It was a new situation.”
As opposed to promotion with tenure, Roth received a tenured appointment. While most faculty members are hired with a probationary period, the University occasionally hires more senior scholars who have already achieved tenure at another institution. For a tenured appointment, the University conducts the tenure review before making an official offer. Last May, Associate Professor of English Ruth Nisse received a tenured appointment following her position as Associate Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
As dictated by University protocol, a tenure decision must be made by the end of the assistant professor’s seventh year of teaching. If the faculty member is denied tenure or chooses not to stand at the necessary time, the individual has one more year of service on the faculty before they must leave the University. This grace year allows the individual sufficient time to find a new place of employment.
Although Price, who is on academic leave this semester, declined to comment on her own case, she expressed a desire for greater transparency and wider student and faculty awareness of the tenure process.
“I think students should be more aware of how the tenure process works and what having tenure and not having tenure actually means for faculty members,” Price wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “This is especially true for young faculty members for whom this is their first job and who are in need of some kind of mentoring related to teaching and scholarship.”
According to Lane, guidance from senior colleagues helped mitigate his unease during the process.
“The advice from senior colleagues who have not only been through the process, but also witnessed the process [as tenured faculty], is invaluable,” Lane said. “I really cannot say enough about the guidance I received from my senior colleagues.”
Although job security is often considered the primary advantage of tenure, Lane cited academic freedom as an aspect benefiting both recipient professors and the University as a whole.
“Tenure helps secure a more exciting and mature department,” he said. “It truly encourages more innovation and risk taking in scholarly areas, which might be ill-advised early in one’s work.”
In addition to Professors Lane, Roth, and Nisse, Professor of Theater Yuriy Kordonskiy, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Timothy Ku, Professor of Art History Katherine Kuenzli, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Fernando Degiovanni, Professor of Computer Science Norman Danner, Professor of Physics Greg Voth, Professor of Economics Masami Imai and Professor of Physics Francis Starr all received tenure last year.