Thursday, October 30, 2003

Tenure-track, probationary or tenurable? 

Invisible Adjunct makes an excellent connection between the case of tenure denial at Carroll College and the KC Johnson story. IA's point is at the bottom of her post:
I understand why Johnson believes faculty have too much power over the tenure review process, and can appreciate why he would argue that faculty decisions should be accountable to some other body. But what I find almost shockingly naive about the argument that adminstrators and trustees must step forward to require "careful accountings" of the tenure process is the confident assumption that said administrators and trustees are as committed to the institution of tenure as the faculty who are, in Johnson's view, "unwilling or unable to create an intellectually diverse campus." What makes Johnson so sure that administrators and trustees are willing and able to create an intellectually diverse campus?
She's right: They're not, as any reader of this blog will have seen time and again.

I think the issue here is the understanding that faculty have when you hire them. Telling some-one they are non-tenurable (fixed-term, adjunct, visiting, etc.) makes very clear that you are working on a contract that does not provide the option for lifetime employment. You must earn your way, and prove yourself over and again. Most people in the private sector do this as a matter of course, which is largely why they view the tenure system as suspect. But what do we mean when we say that the option is available? At SCSU, the term we use is "probationary": There is a presumption of tenure if one completes "a demonstrated cumulative record of positive performance and professionally competent achievement consistent with the goals of the institution." Do it, and you're in. Don't do it, and you're out. It's simply a decision of what constitutes that cumulative record. I could go on and on about the degradation of the standard, but that's a separate point. Tenure is a presumptive right in that contract for anyone that meets the standard.

At Carroll College, it appears the contract faculty sign grants tenure "based upon the needs of the instructional program of the college and a candidate's potential for contributing to those needs." Now, if the university is cutting the religion or chemistry program that's certainly a reason for denying tenure -- even AAUP recognizes that as legitimate -- but the article says that the programs are growing and the courses taught by the faculty denied tenure are popular. I suspect Carroll's administration is going to have a hard time with this case because they could easily have written the contracts to tell faculty that the positions were "tenurable" without the language on instructional needs. You could offer even a contract that says financial exigency will be grounds for denying tenure. Of course, you then get a poorer pool of applicants -- these are the tradeoffs anyone hiring help faces, in any industry.

Likewise, nowhere in the KC Johnson case did anyone testify that one is supposed to be 'collegial' in order to receive tenure. The testimony he provided to Congress is something I agree with, but Invisible Adjunct misses the point of Johnson's Shadow File created by faculty whose only complaint was over Johnson's politics, something surely extra-contractual. He was lucky that they put the complaints in writing, and he wonders how many others were denied tenure without a similar paper trail. IA can disagree over how big a problem that is, because we'll never really know, will we?