Guest Editorial

Veronica Devore

Judging from the numerous student organizations active on campus, it is clear that Lawrentians are always looking for ways to have their opinions and ideas heard. One of the best and easiest ways to do so directly affects the quality of our education and requires no more than filling out a short but extremely important questionnaire.
The answers we provide help to decide whether a professor receives tenure, which establishes him or her as a permanent and long-term member of the university’s faculty. The American Association of University Professors defines tenure as “an arrangement whereby faculty members, after successful completion of a period of probationary service, can be dismissed only for adequate cause . and only after a hearing before a faculty committee.” From the university’s perspective, tenure provides Lawrence with faculty whose research and teaching is protected from institutional and interpersonal interference. This guarantees both academic freedom and long-term relationships among accomplished professors, students, and the university.
So why is student input so important in the tenure process? A faculty member who stands for tenure, usually in his or her sixth year, is evaluated on the basis of teaching, scholarship and creative activity, and professional service. The tenure committee collects an immense amount of data to evaluate the candidate, including personal statements, statements from colleagues, and reviews from other professionals in his or her specific field. In the teaching category, however, the people who are best able to evaluate a professor are those who sit in their class every day, do their assignments, and take their exams: the students.
Surely every Lawrentian has a favorite professor, a least favorite professor, and a teaching style that he or she prefers. While end-of-the-term course evaluations are a way to express these preferences, they are primarily for the instructor’s own use and cannot be used by the tenure committee when a professor’s performance is really put to the test. For this reason, the committee sends separate questionnaires to students who have studied with the professor being evaluated. Although the questions may look intimidating at first, they are just guidelines and the committee is interested in anything and everything a student wants to contribute. Each and every student’s opinion is taken into account and valued immensely in the tenure review process.
The next time you receive a tenure review questionnaire in the mail, fill it out and know that your opinion is really being heard. Chances are, it will be one of the most important and valued contributions you will make to Lawrence during your time here.