To Tenure or Not To Tenure

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By Maddie Silva

The subject of tenure has begun to circulate in the midst of faculty uncertainty. I briefly sat down with Dr. Ann Hamilton, Providence’s Interim Chief Academic Officer, to talk about this topic that has grown in concern. Before Dr. Hamilton had to rush off to a meeting, she showed me a chart that graphed the gradual but steady decline of tenured professors since the late-1960s in the United States.

Similar graphs from The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges parallels this nationwide-decline, noting that as the rate of tenure-track professors declines adjunct professors now account for three quarters of instructional faculty at nonprofit colleges and universities nation-wide.

The term tenure conjures images of geriatric professors lecturing past their prime. However, the process of attaining academic tenure is a long and arduous procedure. According to The New Workplace Institute Blog, tenure is contingent on teaching, scholarship, and service. Teaching is typically held as the most important criteria, although some institutions stress research scholarship. A committee or department makes an initial recommendation of a professor based off of a blind vote, then a second recommendation is made to the board of trustees or a dean. The tenure evaluation track at most schools lasts about five or six years.

Photo of Dr. Ann Hamilton taken from Providence’s website

When a professor makes it to a tenured position he or she is guaranteed a certain amount of academic freedom, “grounded in the conviction that knowledge creation and the expression of ideas should be free from intimidation or retaliation.” Tenured professors are not above the law, they can be dismissed for failure to perform educational responsibilities or misconduct. Tenure is not about letting professors get away with mediocre teaching; it is about job security.

The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges concludes that policies have not shifted to reflect the change in the rate of tenure-track professors. Non-tenure-track professors may face job uncertainty and lower salaries. The AGB writes, “It is also important to understand that existing policies- or the lack of them- often hamper faculty performance, adversely affect students’ learning, and expose institutions to greater risk of legal action.” The AGB cites that contingent faculty may be hired in a rush, leaving contingent faculty insufficient time to prepare for classes. Non-tenure-track faculty may also have inadequate orientations to the school’s policies and academic guidelines. In short: hiring greater numbers of non-tenure-track faculty may have short-term financial benefits, but long term human resource issues.

    In the next issue, we’ll explore why non-tenure-track faculty has been on the rise and ascertain Providence’s stance on tenure. Some questions we expect to be answered next are: What benefits are accessible to full time faculty vs. adjunct faculty? What are the average workloads of adjunct faculty versus tenured faculty? Perhaps most importantly, why does Providence not offer tenure?