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University News

Faculty approves tenure for all clinical chairs

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 16, 2010

At its meeting earlier this month, the faculty approved a proposal for the Alpert Medical School to establish clinical tenure for all 15 chairs of its clinical departments. The proposal — which has yet to receive the final stamp of approval from the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body — is intended to help the Med School draw higher quality candidates for clinical department chairs and bolster its attractiveness among its peer institutions.

Clinical tenure has “no guarantee of employment or salary support,” said Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Michele Cyr.

Faculty in the Med School’s clinical departments are “hired by the hospital and paid by the hospital” or hired by outside practices, said Professor of Physics Chung-I Tan P’95 P’03, chair of the Department of Physics and chair of the Faculty Executive Committee.

Clinical tenure does not include the same guarantees as traditional tenure, Tan said.

Clinical faculty members “generate their salaries through research grants and private practices,” he said.

Typically, “your appointment has to be renewed every five or six years,” said Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Edward Wing.

But under clinical tenure, the department chair “doesn’t need to be reappointed” as long as he or she maintains employment in his or her hospital setting, Cyr said. If hospital employment is terminated, though, so is clinical tenure, she said.

Clinical tenure provides chairs “recognition of a standing within their profession” and “signifies a certain level of accomplishment in their field,” Tan said.

“The title is very, very important,” Wing said, which was why he proposed the establishment of clinical tenure about a year ago, he added.

Some expressed apprehension about this proposal diluting “the prestige and importance of tenure,” Wing said. But the usual “rigorous” process for awarding tenure will be followed, he said, adding that, if anything, the move will enhance the title because of the high quality of the faculty receiving clinical tenure.

Clinical tenure could aid the Med School by being seen as an attractive bonus in the hiring process, Tan said.

“The title is important to people we’re recruiting,” Wing said.

For instance, the new Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology Joanna Cain had been given tenure at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Oregon, but could not be considered for it at Brown, Wing said.

A policy change will “allow us to recruit the best people,” Wing said, especially because the Med School is currently looking to hire permanent chairs of medicine, neurology and psychiatry.

Establishing clinical tenure also puts the Med School on the level of its peer institutions, Cyr said. In 2005, Alpert was one of only 12 medical schools — out of 125 — that did not offer a form of clinical tenure, she said, though the definition of tenure varies at different institutions.

The original version of the proposal included giving clinical tenure to faculty members who held endowed professorships, which are positions paid for by revenue from an endowment fund, according to Cyr. But the number of endowed professorships depends primarily on the decision of the donor, not the administration of the medical school, Cyr said.

As a result, the proposal that was accepted applies only to chairs of the 15 clinical departments, who are “highly regarded in the medical school,” Tan said.

There is a “natural tendency for faculty to resist” the development of non-traditional tenure, Tan said.

Tenure for Med School faculty often has “way too much liability,” Wing said, because they receive higher salaries and are not hired by the University.

One concern was making sure “the University wasn’t obligated financially,” Wing said.

Also, some had concerns that this proposal would put “a foot in the door” for eventually giving tenure to other Med School faculty — which is “not the intention at all,” Wing said.

Before it was presented to the faculty for approval, the proposal had to go through a slew of academic committees, a “lengthy process of review, revision, and approval,” Cyr said.

This serves to ensure that the proposal is “reasonable enough educationally and financially,” Tan said.

Next, the proposal must be approved by the Corporation, Wing said. “We hope that they will do that very soon.”

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