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Faculty approves tenure changes

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, February 7, 2011

The faculty voted to amend the tenure review process and extend the period of time before junior faculty members are nominated for promotion at its Dec. 7 meeting.

While the changes themselves were approved, the faculty has yet to vote on the wording of the amendments. The December motions — part of a larger overhaul of the tenure process ­­— were proposed by the Faculty Executive Committee.

“Basically what we were trying to do is trying to make the process more transparent, so that the structure is clear,” Cynthia Garcia Coll, professor of education and chair of the FEC, said. “We changed some of the timings, so instead of being seven years and you have to come up for tenure, now you know we’ve added a year, and you can come up for tenure any time you want.”

The amendments addressed two portions of the Faculty Rules and Regulations: junior faculty contracts and the protocol behind tenure recommendations and evaluations.

Assistant professorship contracts were extended to a maximum of eight total years before junior faculty members are either promoted with tenure or dismissed. The motion also changed deadlines for when candidates for tenure can submit names of potential recommenders, as well as for when departments can finalize who will evaluate assistant professors.

The changes were introduced to extend the time for junior faculty to pursue research.

“It’s much harder to publish a book now than it was in the past because of publishers getting much smaller,” Garcia Coll said. She added that receiving federal funding for scientific research has also become “a lot more competitive,” and said these changes should be accounted for in the tenure review process.

Faculty also approved changes to how external recommenders are selected. Departments will have to obtain eight letters of recommendation for professors being considered for tenure. Candidates for tenure will give their departments lists of scholars outside the University who would be appropriate recommenders, as well as the names of those who would not. Departments will then decide which scholars should review tenure candidates — the list must include three members of the candidate’s list, although the names on the final list will not be disclosed to the candidates. These lists will then be submitted to the dean of the faculty, who can recommend but not add additional references. Finally, the department will contact list members to determine their interest in writing recommendations.

Jerome Sanes, professor of neuroscience and chair of the Tenure, Promotions and Appointments Committee, said that although he approved of many of the changes, he wished the administration had more input on the final list of references.

“I think that — and this was my opinion — it was of some importance to have the administration involved in the selection of the letters that are being requested,” Sanes said.

Sanes added that although his experiences on TPAC may have influenced his opinions, they do not reflect TPAC as a body.

Though the faculty approved the policy changes in December, the revised wording to the Faculty Rules and Regulations was scheduled to be voted on at the February faculty meeting. But the meeting, originally scheduled for Feb. 1, was postponed due to a snow storm. The meeting is rescheduled for Feb. 22.

She said, though, that she expects the next vote to be relatively uncontested, since the wording is “very clearly tied” to what was already approved.

Garcia Coll said the FEC will only have a few amendments left to introduce after the February meeting. She plans to introduce them at the March faculty meeting.

Though those amendments will end revisions to the tenure process,  the tenure issue as a whole will not be concluded, she said. The tenure rate, which is higher at Brown than at other Ivy League schools, has long been a subject of faculty discussion.

“There’s lots of different theories about, ‘Is this a problem?’ or ‘Is this a good sign that we nurture our young professors, that we attract the best because they know they can get tenure?'” Garcia Coll said. “It’s a different debate, but it’s related, so that, I think, is going to be going on for a while.”

Provost David Kertzer ’69 P’95 P’98 was originally tasked with revising tenure review, and he formed the ad hoc committee to review tenure and faculty development. But Garcia Coll said the list of changes was “overwhelming” for faculty when the committee first brought its proposal, and it was withdrawn.

“You have to remember that tenure and promotions are basically crucial for faculty,” she said. “That’s how we promote people that we think are really doing something outstanding.”

Garcia Coll said the ongoing discussion confirms the issue’s importance.

“If nobody would care, (the revisions) would be passing along,” she said. “Tenure really, really defines the character of the faculty you have. If it’s somebody who thinks they’ll be here a long time, they’ll really care about this place.”

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