Editorial | Tenure: it takes a village
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 01:02
Today’s article regarding tenured professorship brings attention to an often−overlooked issue: the difficulty of receiving tenure and, thus, job security in higher education. Tenure is an important milestone in the careers of many professors, and a critical steppingstone in gaining access to future research opportunities and advancing in higher education. Without it, professors are severely restricted in both their ability to conduct independent research and realize their earning capacity either at Tufts or elsewhere, which ultimately affects the quality of the education we as students receive.
The process of receiving tenure is inevitably a drawn−out and demanding one. According to the university’s Policy on Academic Freedom, Tenure and Retirement, full−time faculty members in tenure−track positions are subjected to a probationary period of between seven and 10 years depending on the level of degree held or to which school or department faculty members belongs. Towards the conclusion of this trial period consisting of field−related research and lectures, a candidate must submit a portfolio of their work to be reviewed by both intradepartmental faculty as well as scholars from around the country.
Even if a faculty member is willing to jump through these hoops, fulfilling the academic requirements isn’t necessarily the determining factor: financial limitations at the university play a significant role in deciding how many tenure hires it can make. Failure to receive tenure for whatever reason makes it extremely difficult to pursue a further career in the field. A margin for error is therefore nearly nonexistent.
Though the tenure track may seem divorced from our lives as students, it’s important to consider that we play an essential role in this process. Semesterly course evaluations can make or break a faculty member’s ability to be granted a tenure appointment. It is imperative that we take them seriously, perhaps even more so than we have in the past. The inaugural online course evaluations last semester yielded a 78 percent response rate by undergraduate students, up from when paper copies were distributed in class but still significantly shy of complete participation. Constructive feedback is not only a way of informing professors of their job performance, but are a key component of the overall evaluation of these candidates.
In order to preserve the exclusive privileges of a tenured professorship for the most worthy candidates, a rigorous process seems unavoidable. But given its importance in securing research opportunities and employment, it also needs to be accessible. The exclusion of interdisciplinary programs from the tenure track — such as American studies and Peace and Justice studies programs — should change.
National trends indicate strong growth in interdisciplinary studies over the past decade, with the number of bachelor’s and associate’s degrees awarded annually in these fields by universities increasing from 39,720 in 1999 to 55,319 in 2010, a 39−percent increase. Tufts should further reaffirm its commitment to promoting interdisciplinary studies by giving all deserving professors another reason to remain at Tufts to teach and conduct research.