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

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Tenure process intends to give teachers job security

Part one of a two-part series on tenure appearing April 2-3.

Michael Adler sits in his Heroy Hall office and seriously “thinks” – all day – and gets paid to do it. He doesn’t know of a better way to spend his time. He feels fortunate. And this fortune will mostly likely stay with him until he calls it quit.

Adler, associate professor of anthropology has tenure. That means he isn’t going anywhere, at least for a long while.

“Academia is a self-driven obsession,” Adler said. “As a scholar we are in this for the long run.”

And that is why Alder opted for the tenure track when he first arrived at SMU in 1991. He, like many other professors, jumped on the tenure track to ensure job security and the security of higher education.

According to the American Associate of University Professors, “tenure is a means to a certain ends.” AAUP was adopted and the standard implemented for the tenure process since 1940. Although each department and school across campus differs in criteria, tenure was originally designed by AAUP to protect academic freedom.

“Academic freedom means you have the professional responsibility to do what is right,” Glenn Linden, president of the SMU AAUP chapter and tenure associate professor of history, said. “You can say what you believe independent of anybody else and have the protection here to say the things you believe are important to say as part of your academic growth and progress.”

Job Security

Tenure not only grants academic freedom for the professors who own the title, it means job security, a permeate position. Well sort of, said Linden.

“We are trusted to be a good teacher. We are trusted to be a productive scholar and not have our ability questioned,” Adler said. “We don’t pledge our loyalty. The frustrating thing from the administrative perspective is we can leave when we want. The university is investing in us.”

After granted tenure the burden shifts from the professor to the university.

They can’t get rid of a tenure person like they can easily get rid of a non-tenured professor, Linden said. They have to say more than ‘I don’t like you,’ he said.

“It (tenure) does alter you because it is a vote of confidence that the university is going to keep you here,” Adler said. “A dean will tell you it is a one way relationship-the university is marrying you.”

But what if the university wants a “divorce?”

“Besides being an ax murderer,” Ellen Jackofsky, assistant to the provost and faculty, jokingly said, it must be “something very serious. And that is usually something illegal or immoral.” She would not comment on reasons tenure professors have been dismissed in the past.

Linden and Adler furthered Jackofsky’s list to include alcoholism, not meeting classes regularly, and a show of incompetence where the professor is no longer able to function in any reasonable manner.

“It allows you to grow and develop, and it requires good proof to terminate you,” Adler said. “Prove that you’re not doing a good job. Prove that you’re not writing very well. Prove that your service is increasingly unsatisfactory. It is peers that decide this.”

When peers no longer believe a tenure professor conducts their job in a professional way, a committee forms and states their serious doubts of the competency of the person Linden said. The tenure candidate has the right to due process.

“First thing is the right to go through a process of notifying and working with the person,” Linden said.

So the myth that tenure can do anything, say anything and get away with it is nothing farther from the truth, said Adler. His peers tell him if he is right or wrong.

Dossier and Procedure

From the start of the hiring process a potential faculty member is aware the position is either on the non-tenure or tenure track. If the latter is the case, a faculty member is hired on a three-year contract in pursuit of a tenure position. During the third year they are evaluated and granted either a terminal year in which they have one year left at the university, or a faculty member is granted tenure time.

“Tenure means to keep him or her. No one has a contractual right to get tenure,” Linden said. “Once they have it, they have the right to keep it but they don’t have the right to get it. We try to cultivate and bring them along during the three years and in the third year the department asks, ‘Has the person done enough to be around for three more years?'”

But before either of these decisions are made, a faculty member begins to create a dossier, Jackofsky said. The dossier includes various information but centers on research, teaching and service.

“Effort alone cannot get you tenure,” Jackofsky said. “You have to have objective outcome.” The dossier becomes the litmus test for the process.

Jackofsky said people outside the university evaluate research. Confidential letters of recommendation are requested by people in the candidates’ field of study. She stresses the importance of establishing national reputation and networking.

The dossier also includes other evidence of their research. Journal articles, the number of times their work has been cited by others in publications or book reviews of their publications fill the dossier. The other major component of the dossier is documentation of teaching skills. Those up for tenure are requested to submit teaching evaluations from all their students, Jackofsky said.

“Students make a big difference in terms of the tenure decision,” she said. She stresses students take the evaluations more seriously.

In the candidates’ fifth year, the dossier is presented and read by the appropriate department. A decision to recommend or not to recommend for tenure is made in the candidate’s sixth year if not otherwise specified in writing.

No matter the outcome, the dean’s committee meets and makes a recommendation to the school’s dean. The dean can override the committee and relate the written decision to the provost advisory committee, made up of six representatives from each of the schools.

This committee receives back-up material with the dossier. The additional information may include all the teaching evaluations or unpublished work. Jackofsky said at this level in the process, the provost communicates with his committee, explores each positive and negative recommendation. The provost then makes the final decision before forwarding his decision to the president.

“We have tried to produce a system that tells us that we have objective information on every subject possible,” Jackofsky said. “But we have so much information that we’re deciding what to evaluate in the dossier and what to put in it.”

The president and the Board of Trustees then make the final vote. In the past seven years Jackofsky has never seen a case where the president has disagreed with the provost’s decision. Once the tenured decision is closed in the sixth year, a new contract is formed.

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