Faculty members and administrators engaged in a heated discussion at Tuesday afternoon's faculty forum about the changes to the tenure review process recommended last month in a report by the ad hoc Committee to Review Tenure and Faculty Development. To accommodate a large crowd, the forum was held in Salomon 101.
The March 25 report's major recommendations included extending to eight years the maximum period before a faculty member is either awarded tenure or dismissed, bolstering support for junior faculty and restructuring the Tenure, Promotion and Appointments Committee, a permanent body tasked with deciding the outcomes of tenure cases.
The Committee to Review Tenure and Faculty Development — which consisted of three administrators and nine tenured faculty members — undertook its review in response to feedback from a New England Association of Schools and Colleges review committee that pointed out the unusually high rate at which the University grants tenure, said Provost David Kertzer '69 P'95 P'98 in his introductory remarks.
The recommendations are designed to make the tenure review process more systematic and rigorous, according to Kertzer, who chaired the ad hoc committee.
"We're eager to get feedback on the report before finalizing these recommendations," he said. But many faculty members said they felt that the faculty's autonomy was at stake and the administration's increasing authority in the tenure review process was unwarranted.
One recommendation would allow the provost to determine the candidates for election to the Tenure, Promotion and Appointments Committee in consultation with the Nominating Committee, which names candidates to fill vacancies in the Corporation's standing committees and offices.
Harold Roth, professor of religious studies, who served on the Tenure, Promotion and Appointments Committee, said the faculty's independence would be undermined by the recommendations. In the year he served on the committee, the provost disagreed with it "half a dozen times," he said.
Andrea Simmons, professor of psychology and chair of the Nominating Committee, agreed that it was important for the committee to be independent. The department chair is "very often the source of bias" in a tenure review process, she said.
Serving on the committee is "often a thankless job," Kertzer said, adding that seats on the committee are often difficult to fill. Kertzer said he hopes to select faculty who can serve as models as candidates for the committee.
"I think TPAC is the most influential committee at Brown and the most important one," Kertzer said.
These statements prompted an impassioned response from Professor of American Civilization Susan Smulyan, who balked at the idea that faculty are not eager to serve on the committee.
"I find it very difficult to conceive of a tenured faculty member whom the provost would find not fitting to serve on TPAC," she said in response to Kertzer's statement that he would choose the most qualified candidates. "There's not a problem with any member of the faculty who's willing to serve."
"No one should be under the impression that any individuals are making the decision on their own," said Dean of the Faculty Rajiv Vohra P'07, who was a member of the ad hoc committee, on the recommended expansion of the provost's role in appointing members to the Tenure, Promotion and Appointments Committee.
Other recommendations of the ad hoc committee included changes to a provision for the dean of the faculty to solicit letters from a list of sources for faculty members whose tenure is under review. The ad hoc committee suggested increasing the minimum number of letters from five to 10 and making the final list of letter-writers closed to the faculty member under review — a recommendation that prompted concerns about transparency and attention from several professors at the forum.
"The expectation is that TPAC will be responsible," said Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences Sheila Blumstein, who served on the ad hoc committee, in response to questions about how closely each letter would be read if the minimum number were raised. The committee "has been reading all letters and will continue to do so. That will never change," she said.
Professor of Physics James Valles said keeping the letters confidential would allow more honest opinions to emerge but individuals should have the opportunity to review the full list of letter-writers.
"The goal here is not to reduce the tenure rate, but to improve the faculty," said Anita Zimmerman, professor of medical science.
But to improve the faculty, each department should reevaluate its own criteria, she said. Otherwise, the process is "ruled by people who really have no clue in the subject area," she said.
"The report doesn't say that the aim is to reduce the tenure rate," Vohra said. "The rigor of the process isn't about achieving a certain magic number."
Vohra also said that current rules already allow the committee to get additional information about tenure candidates and that soliciting external letters is rare but not new. The practice "is more systematically going to be seen as part of the process rather than something that happens only in certain cases and not in others," he said.
Several faculty members were worried that members outside of a candidate's field would have too much say in the tenure process, without having the expertise to judge the candidate's work. "I don't know how a member of the administration can have a full range of expertise in the full range of departments," said Professor of Comparative Literature Arnold Weinstein.
When the provost and faculty members compared Brown's tenure review process to peer institutions', Professor of Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies Dore Levy said in response that the University must remember that its resources and academic culture differ from the universities Brown often compares itself to. While other universities offer more resources for faculty research, faculty come to Brown for the collegial atmosphere, she said.
Another, less contentious, recommendation was to refer cases in which tenure is denied to the Committee on Faculty Equity and Diversity only when grievances are raised. Currently, tenure denials go to the committee automatically.
A final consensus on the list of recommendations was not reached, and Kertzer suggested that some recommendations be voted on separately May 4.
Twice during the forum, Professor of Physics and Chair of the Faculty Executive Committee Chung-I Tan P'95 P'03 ejected Daniel Van Lunen '11, Reed Frye '11, Matthew Balatbat '11 and Frank Rinaldi '12, four students who attended without permission. Rinaldi said he attended because he was concerned about "the culture of academic freedom" among students and faculty at the University.
Corey Walker, associate professor of Africana studies, noted the "level of distrust" apparent in the faculty's concerns. "This is about the core issue of the governance of this university," he said. "The issue becomes, ‘What are we here for?' "
Walker also asked why the date for voting on recommendations had already been set for May 4, the date of the next faculty meeting. "We were assured that nothing had been decided," he said. "We're not having a full and robust conversation." A round of applause followed his comments.
Walker said later that the recommendations had the potential to "change the very character of this university."
The tenure review committee's report "tries to strengthen our system of review," Kertzer said. "We can't think of any better way to do it than the way we suggested."