What is tenure anyway?

By Lauren Prince ’14Editor-in-Chief

Tenure. What is it? What makes it a coveted status? And what does it mean both for the faculty and students?

Dean of Faculty Amy Marcus-Newhall breaks down all these questions and more. Tenure is a permanent teaching position without contract renewals to ensure academic freedom without due cause for termination. Once a professor has tenure, they have relative job security and stability.

So first, the basics. There are three levels of professor: assistant, associate, and full.

The process of tenure is a long, seven-year process. It begins at hiring, when a new professor joins the faculty for a tenure-track position.

A professor begins as an assistant and during her/his third year are reviewed for contract renewal. If the third year review is positive, then the professor will be reviewed for tenure and promotion to associate professor during her/his sixth year. If the tenure review is positive, the faculty member will be tenured. If it is not positive, then the faculty member will have one terminal year of service. The faculty are reviewed by the Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure (APT) committee which is made up of five elected faculty and the Dean of Faculty as a non-voting member. The APT is a recommending body to the President and the Board of Trustees. After eight years post- tenure, the faculty member is reviewed by the APT for promotion to full professor.

Every four years after being tenured, professors meet with the Dean of Faculty to discuss their accomplishments in teaching, scholarship and service.

At each review, a professor is evaluated based on three categories: teaching, scholarship, and service. During these reviews, APT takes into account course evaluations, student letters, faculty scholarship such as published books and articles, external letters from experts in the field, and service (i.e. serving as Department Chair, on committees, etc.).

For these reviews, student input is important. When a professor is reviewed by APT for tenure and promotion to full professor, she/he sends a list of student names to the APT. These students are asked to write letters or complete a form accounting the quality of the faculty. There are also students that are randomly asked to write letters regarding the faculty. These two different groups of student letters are then read and reviewed.

“I can’t stress this enough, student input is crucial in the faculty review process,” said Marcus-Newhall. Currently, the APT often only receives 5 letters out of 30+ requests that they send to students. This does not give a representative perspective of a professor’s teaching abilities.

Whether or not a professor receives tenure or a promotion, they are given a letter that documents how they are doing and how they can improve.

The benefits of tenure provide academic freedom to the professors so that they can push students to discuss difficult, controversial issues without negative ramifications.

Despite the stereotype that some professors stop caring about teaching and their students after being tenured, Marcus-Newhall ardently asserts that Scripps does not have those professors. She also said that the benefits of tenure far outweigh the costs associated with a small number of professors who may choose to not work as hard after knowing their position is secure.

Tenured professors are exceptional in all aspects of their career, and are beneficial to the students because they can be more demanding and teach controversial topics in new ways. Scripps and other institutions of higher education thrive because of tenured professors.