The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Students, mentoring produce effect on tenure process

The second in a two-part series on tenure appearing April 2-3.

Two parts of the tenure system, job security and dossier and procedure, were addressed in the April 2 article. Part two of the series focuses on how the tenure system affects students, faculty mentoring, and its future at the university.

Students

Once the contract is secured, so is the future of the students, Glenn Linden, president of the SMU American Association of University Professors, said. Although the tenure process prioritizes research and publication, teaching comes in a close third. With any kind of teaching, students are the major proponents, Dr. Bobby Alexander suggests. He currently serves as assistant to the dean for undergraduate studies of the School of Social Science and assistant professor of sociology on tenure track at the University of Texas at Dallas. He suggests students ask themselves, “what’s in it (tenure) for me?”

“If tenure works as it’s supposed to, the student is ensured good, quality teaching,” Alexander said. “[With tenure] I can explore the world and the world of ideas and involve students in this process. [Tenured professors] get better after tenure because they get more creative and discover other avenues.”

Alexander also prefers students be players in his classroom. “The good teacher is the good researcher and the good researcher is a person who applies the life of the mind to understand and improve life,” Alexander said. “If students can be involved, then all the better.”

Linden agrees students benefit from tenure because it produces better faculty who care about them and are here to stay. Linden, associate history professor, thinks that if tenure did not exist, the students would suffer the most.

“If we didn’t have tenure a lot of part time people would be coming and going,” Linden says. “Who do you go to for help? Who will be here when they return the next year? Who’s advising? What the university has is a core of people who have been here a long time who care about the students-whose life is the students and who give their life to the university and will take time to help when students need the help.”

Tenure not only plays a role in what associate professor of anthropology Michael Adler teaches in his classes, but how he teaches. His confidence as a teacher changed once he was granted tenure. He asks the questions he believes are worth asking. He is continually fascinated by the challenging questions of his students.

“Everyone who is up there(teaching) is a student,” Adler said. “Some may just spend more time in the back row.”

Alexander, who stands in the front of the classroom, believes tenure labels him as a competent teacher and an accurate researcher acknowledged by his peers.

To continue in the path of academic excellence, an annual performance review process is in order and implemented at SMU to maintain and increase high marks for teaching and reputation.

“Since we produce ideas, I’m an asset every time I write a grant and publish an article,” Adler said.

After the faculty development policy was established by the Faculty Senate, the periodic evaluation became required. Ellen Jackofsky, assistant provost of academic affairs for the Cox School of Business, said part of this review process includes a unit of the school to discuss tenured track professors’ multi-year plans. This process reassures that those tenured are continually contributing to academia as a researcher and teacher.

According to SMU’s “Guidelines for the Periodic Evaluation of Faculty” teaching, research and service is collected and submitted annually. An “evaluative conference” is held with the faculty member and the appropriate person. The primary objective is the “assessment and the enhancement of the professional development of the faculty member.” This is also the opportunity when salary adjustments are made.

The evaluator writes to the dean and provost of the school of study, summarizing the meeting and recommendations for improvement if warrants. A copy of the evaluation is also submitted to the tenure professor.

Mentoring

Mentoring reassures that SMU produces the best tenured professors, in Linden’s opinion. Although some may call it mentoring while others refer to it as development, Jackofsky said that the process is less than flawless. Despite the semantics, Linden agrees that mentoring “is a lost art,” an art that is absolutely critical in the tenure process. He defines a mentor as “somebody who has been around awhile to help someone who hasn’t been around awhile.”

“There are parts of the university I think much more mentoring could and should be done,” Linden said. “We need to advise and work with them (tenured track professors) and help them understand (their responsibilities) on a year by year bases.”

Alexander received general mentoring while he was employed by SMU as associate professor of religious studies. His department recommended him for tenure in the fall of 1991 he arrived in 1986. Alexander was not recommended for tenure by the dean of Dedman College.

He knew he had to research, publish and teach. He thought all expectations were being met. But when he was denied tenure in 1992, he was left wondering what else he could have done.

“When I was given the dean’s negative recommendation, he said, ‘well Bobby, I suppose we could do a better job of mentoring’,” Alexander said.

The dean recommended seven of 13 candidates for tenure to the provost that year. After the dean reversed the chairman of the department’s positive recommendation, Alexander began his process of appeals.

According to SMU’s “Guidelines for the Award of Rank and Tenure,” if schools’ departments conduct reviews, all appeals must be completed within a three-week period.

Alexander appealed to the provost in January 1991. He based his case on his publications. He had published his revised dissertation.

“The dean told me that he found my case marginal and would not promote me to the provost,” Alexander said.

In the spring of 1993 he appealed to the provost’s decision to the president on the basis that he had a second book in the making. The president supported the provost’s decision. Alexander was under the impression that the president chose not to overturn the negative recommendation in order to eliminate awkwardness and arguments between all parties involved. Alexander exercised his option to stay another year. He left SMU after seven years.

“It requires a superhuman commitment to one’s human integrity,” Alexander said. He used his seventh year to look for another career opportunity. He left SMU in May of 1993 for the tenure track in sociology at UTD.

“I thought I would stay there a long, long time,” Alexander said. “I came in with hope, dreams and stars in my eyes. I landed one of the very few jobs in my field. I was devastated by the decision.”

He said if the goal is to achieve research and teaching, then the mentoring process needs greater feedback from peers and more effective solicitation of students’ views.

“All of us recognize that mentoring can be improved. Job candidates appreciate detailed feedback and forthrightness in the assessment that are offered at the third year review,” Alexander said.

Jackofsky agrees honesty is key in the tenured process. She said faculty isn’t given clear developmental information to junior faculty members. Honest feedback is important when mentoring a tenured track faculty member.

“Tenure is a thorough process, but certainly the flaw comes when people are not honest with each other,” Jackofsky said. “And so you take a non-tenured faculty member and you say ‘oh, you’re doing fine, you’re doing fine,’ but you know darn well they’re not doing what they need to do to get tenure.”

She claims the saddest part of the process is when the dossier arrives in her office with a positive recommendation, yet red flags were raised and ignored to deny a candidate the tenure position. She said no one had the gumption to deliver the honest recommendation.

“The system is political no matter how you cut it,” Jackofsky said. “A dean may not want [the professor get tenure], but doesn’t wa
nt to upset his colleges that like the candidate.”

Future

There are different views on the future of tenure. Linden said more tenured faculty members are needed. Jackofsky disagrees, saying that SMU is probably where it should be in numbers.

Jackofsky trusts that if tenure was dismissed, the university would survive. She believes that tenure supports the mission statement of the university: to create and disseminate knowledge.

In Alder’s mind, the whole university would crumble without tenure positions.

“We would be forced to do projects and ask research questions, ” Alder said. “I think it is worthwhile to have a place for thinkers. It is a coming of age that hasn’t outlived its youthfulness.”

Linden attributes America having the best university system to the tenure system.

He compares tenure to a democracy and being a homeowner.

“It has its flaws, but it’s better than anything else,” Linden said. “It’s a human institution which ensures due process and provides opportunity. Professors work harder for the university once they have tenure because this is their place; it’s their home. It’s like renting and then buying a home. All of a sudden, this is where you are and you love your house and you fix it up and take care of it. A lot of people around really do care about SMU, and they put a lot into it.”

More to Discover