Thoughts on tenureship

Lawrence University, like many other schools, has tenure positions. These positions are fairly standard and allow tenured professors a lot of freedom and security. While it’s a good system, we think that there might be a way to maintain and improve the scholarship of professors even after they have long been tenured.

The tenure process is designed to allow professors research and teaching freedom without fear of termination. It’s awarded to faculty members whose contributions to the Lawrence community provide clear evidence of past excellence and the potential for continued excellence throughout their academic careers. Tenure-line faculty go through the tenure review process after at least six years of teaching at Lawrence and are terminated if not approved for tenure. Though sometimes confused with tenureship, full Professorship is a separate title reserved for faculty who continually and effectively serve the University, and whose teaching, scholarly or creative achievements, and service to the community merit the distinction the rank connotes. Promotion to full Professor is an honor that the institution bestows upon faculty who have distinguished themselves among their peers, both at Lawrence and elsewhere; it is not a reward for length of service.” Faculty do not lose their job if they do not get this.

Professors must undergo an extensive process of review in order to gain tenure. Their teaching, scholarship, creative activity and service to the community is evaluated through student surveys, external reviewers from different colleges and the tenure committee. Once tenured, professors are ensured their position unless they resign, retire or are removed from a tenured position for, as stated by the faculty handbook “inability to perform normal duties, for adequate cause, for discontinuance of a program or department, or for reasons of financial exigency at the University.” According to Karen Carr, the current chair of the Tenure Committee, adequate cause includes “moral turpitude, intemperance, disregard for the academic freedom of colleagues or students, or failure to meet, or neglect of, stated expectations and obligations or other professional responsibilities.” Removal of tenured professors is rare, perhaps due to the resulting poor reflection on the college. There are no post-tenure review processes unless professors want to be promoted to full professorship.

Professors who have achieved a tenured position run the risk of losing their enthusiasm for teaching. As long as faculty fulfill the minimum duties of a faculty member, they will not be removed from their tenured position and may lose motivation to improve. There are still a few check ins, such as course reviews, but professors are largely able to teach in exactly the ways they want. While this may be a good idea in theory, professors may not be compelled to teach in the most modern or effective ways. When professors fail to update their curriculum, they harm the students by providing them with outdated teaching methods and information. 

In the worst cases, tenured faculty may carry a sense of entitlement. The knowledge that it is rare to be fired from a tenured position may cause those who are tenured to act in an unprofessional manner. While most don’t act in this way, the few who do tarnish the concept of tenure. 

We propose that attending conferences, workshops and teaching seminars should be incorporated into the expectations of tenured faculty. This will help to keep professors updated on the most recent teaching techniques and advances in their field. Though most professors know that it is important to continue to engage in their field outside of the college at which they work, it would be ideal to have it as a requirement. If tenured professors cause students discomfort or receive poor course evaluations, we suggest  that  another faculty member could talk with tenured professors about these problems. This way, students will not have to actively fight to have their voices heard when popular professors act poorly towards them. While tenure is a wonderful system that promotes security and creative expression in professors, it is also one that could be improved to ensure accountability in the faculty.