Archive for Monday, October 9, 2006

Task force examines whether tenure process is on the right track

October 9, 2006


Tracy Russo can laugh now that it's over.

"You're sweating bullets," Russo, an associate professor of communication studies, recalled of her application for tenure at Kansas University. "This is your career. If you're not tenured, then essentially you have to leave."

Each year, about 30 KU faculty and librarians undergo the nail-biting tenure process. Most come out on top. Since 2002, an average of 9 percent of applicants have been denied tenure.

A task force is examining KU's promotion and tenure policies, hoping to clarify and improve a process that many say is scary at best.

"We don't think the system is broken in any serious kind of way," said Rick Levy, law professor and chairman of the task force. "But we do think there are ways that it could be made more clear and more accessible to people."

Among the bigger changes on the table is a move to make the process more open to the faculty whose careers are on the line.

For some faculty, once the applications or "blue forms" are submitted, they fall out of the loop. And for months, they may not know much about what is happening.

Applications take months to travel through the various levels before a final decision is made.

"It kind of goes off into the ether and for the next six months you don't hear a lot," said Ruth Ann Atchley, associate professor of psychology and task force member.

Atchley recalled her own situation of going up for tenure.

"It was probably unnecessarily stressful," she said. "Even knowing that I was probably doing fine : it still was unnecessarily stressful to have it be in this black box."

Different schools permit varying degrees of openness as applications move through the channels. What changes KU will make to amend the process are up for discussion.

An open process helps faculty to see what's going on and can go far toward building confidence that the system is equitable, Atchley said.

"We all want people to feel that, yea or nay, it was fair," she said.

The task force also will take up such issues as university standards for promotion and tenure, the appeal process and other topics. All will be hashed out in a series of open meetings. The first, on oversight and appeal, is today.

"The stakes in tenure decisions are very, very high - both for the university and the faculty member involved," Levy said. "It's important to try to have the best possible process, the clearest possible standards."


3e8 11 years, 7 months ago

holygrailale: please enlighten me, how many non-tenured faculty have been denied tenure for criticizing Intelligent Design? I don't know what Intelligent Design is so I don't know if it is, as you say, insanely stupid.

3e8 11 years, 7 months ago


"All I know is what I read in the papers." -WR

So to put it in my own words, I don't know very much at all.

Your view is instructive, please tell me about this Intelligent Design.

3e8 11 years, 7 months ago

Please remind me, what is the purpose of tenure? Is it still necessary? Do professors really need job protection for the freedom to pursue far-out research? I don't think so anyway.

Tenure turns new faculty hires into potentially "lifetime" hires and as such, hiring committees are much less likely to take risks hiring somebody that might not "fit into the department" and departments start to stagnate. State jobs are practically lifetime jobs already.

I think that on the "pros" vs. "cons" balance sheet with respect to both the students and the academic community, tenure stunts creativity and productivity more than it helps, even if the tenured but now "unproductive" faculty and removed from the calculation.

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