Lawrence grants tenure to seven faculty members

Bridget Donnelly

The Lawrence board of trustees
recently granted tenure
to seven members of the faculty.
The newly tenured professors
include Associate Professor
of Anthropology Mark Jenike,
Associate Professor of Physics
Megan Pickett, Assistant Professor
of Education Robert Williams,
and Assistant Professors in the
Conservatory Andrew Mast, Julie
McQuinn, Phillip Swan, and Mark
Provost and Dean of the
Faculty David Burrows described
the tenure process as an intermediate
step in a process beginning
with the initial recruitment of a
professor and continuing throughout
the duration of that faculty
member’s career.
Burrows said that the tenure
process itself, however, is particularly
important, as it ensures
the enduring success of Lawrence
through “bringing together strong
students and excellent faculty.”
Professors hired into tenuretrack
positions undergo a reappointment
review, headed by the
tenure committee, in their third
year of hire. Candidates then generally
stand for tenure in their
sixth year at Lawrence, though this
may occur earlier if the faculty
member holds previous experience.
Pickett is one such example.
Pickett has obtained tenure for a
second time, having gone through
the process for a previous position
at Purdue University. Pickett
achieved tenure one year after her
The tenure review at Lawrence
takes into consideration three
important criteria, including service,
excellence in teaching and
active scholarship or creative
Although all three components
hold significant weight for the candidate,
the teaching aspect is crucial.
Burrows finds the particular
strength of teaching in both the
ability to engage a student and in
the “importance of learning useful
skills for the future – to be ready
for everything, for a future that
does not yet exist.”
The legacy of Lawrence as an
institution of superior learning,
according to Burrows, depends on
what he calls the “teacher-scholar
model,” in which teachers illustrate
both “how to learn and be a
life-long learner.” For this reason,
the tenure review process emphasizes
active scholarship and creative
Though Burrows said that the
Lawrence tenure committee does
not endorse the “publish or perish”
trope in its standards for
candidate evaluation, he insisted
that “active involvement as a professional”
includes publication
of research and scholarship, or
active performance in the case of
Conservatory faculty.
Burrows said these activities
are “important to ensure intellectual
and creative stimulation,
to ensure being up-to-date and to
model for students the processes
of obtaining knowledge and creating
what is new.”
The final criterion is that of
service, which includes service to
the Lawrence community as well
as to the professional community.
Lawrence encourages professors
to join committees early in their
careers and to collaborate on projects
with other faculty members,
both within and outside of their
home departments.
Professional involvement outside
of Lawrence is also important.
For example, Pickett served on
NASA committees and Swan will
serve as guest conductor this week
for the TAISM High School Choral
Festival in Muscat, Oman.
Once a candidate stands for
tenure, the tenure committee considers
four important pieces of
information. Other faculty members
observe the candidate’s classes,
lectures and performances and
write recommendations based on
their experience with the candidate
as fellow committee members,
partners in research and in other
collaborative roles.
The tenure committee also
collects “evidence of professional
productivity,” which may include
published papers, recordings of
performances or compositions.
The evidence is amassed into a
packet that is reviewed by at least
four external sources. These are
experts in the specialized area of
the candidate, and they represent
both liberal arts colleges similar
to Lawrence and larger universities
and research institutions.
The candidates themselves
must submit a self-evaluation.
Pickett described this personal
statement as a “narrative” showing
the “evolution” of one’s ownwork, informing the committee, “here’s what I’ve done, here’s what I’m doing, here’s what I’m planning to do in the next 10, 20 years.”
Finally, an opinion survey is provided to students who have taken a class with the candidate. Burrows regrets that the return rate remains low on these student evaluations.
According to Burrows, the students’ input is the “single most important” measure of a candidate’s teaching. These reviews from students who participated firsthand in a candidate’s classroom are taken very seriously and contribute significantly to the committee’s final decision.”
The tenure committee is composed of five faculty members, one from each of the four major divisions – fine arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences – as well as a fifth, who may be from any department. However, no member of the committee may be from the same department as any of the candidates.
The committee evaluates the candidate for his or her service, excellence in teaching and scholarship or creative activity. If all members of the committee commend all three of these areas, the candidate then is recommended to the president. The president makes the final recommendation, which the board of trustees must approve.
To help with the tenure process, new professors are assisted by colleagues in their department, as well as by mentors outside of their department, mentors to whom they are assigned in their first year.
Pickett referred to this mentor program as a sort of Freshman Studies for professors, initiating them into the community from the moment they arrive on campus. To those who have little experience with a liberal arts style, this mentorship proves especially beneficial, though mentoring is not confined to this program but is widespread throughout and between the departments.
Mast said of his experience, “While intimidating and enormously time consuming, the process was fair, open and as transparent as something can be when the end result is something as important as tenure.”
Pickett supported this view, saying that, though “you’ll still lose sleep over it, you’re going to worry about it,” the process “is not capricious,” and those faculty members on the committee as well as all the students, colleagues, professionals and anyone else who factors into the final decision, is contributing to the “legacy of Lawrence.