Talking Tenure

Regardless of professional status, professors seek the security and confidence that can come with tenure.

Regardless of professional status, professors seek the security and confidence that can come with tenure.

Despite recent attacks on the practices of tenured professors, Temple continues to add them.

Out of approximately 3,000 faculty members, 810 Temple professors are tenured and 220 are on track to become tenured. Temple currently has 80 full-time faculty openings for 2011-12, according to institutional research from the Office of the Provost and Faculty Development and Faculty Affairs.

The university added its largest faculty recruiting class in history for the 2008-09 academic year with nearly 90 new tenured and tenure-track faculty members, the Temple Times reported in 2008.

“Tenure is discipline-based,” said Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Faculty Affairs Diane Maleson. “The number of tenured professors can vary, and it does vary.”

Maleson said student enrollment, retirements and resignations can allow for the number of tenured professors to fluctuate. She said tenure hires are partly determined by the colleges’ and schools’ deans each year when they each meet with the provost.

Despite the 90 additions, Art Hochner, the president of the Temple Association of University Professionals union, said most faculty do not have and cannot get tenure.

“Those people are called part-time faculty, and there’s an enormous number of them,” said Hochner, an associate professor of human resource management.

“We have tried to get them some measure of job security so that they aren’t let go on a whim,” he said. “We haven’t been as successful as we’d like.”

A Sept. 3 essay in the New York Times cited nearly $830 million in total student-loan debt, called into question tenure in general and examined its effects on students and part-time – or adjunct – faculty through two new books.
Familiar with the New York Times’ tenure coverage, Hochner said most of the tenure discussion is misplaced.

“To me, tenure is not the problem. The lack of tenure is the problem,” he said. “Without tenure, you don’t have the protections that tenure gives you – protections from arbitrary treatment, from being fired or from displeasing somebody, whether it’s because they just don’t like you or don’t like your research, or any other aspect of your work.”

When the university promotes a tenured candidate, the individual is given an opportunity to teach for as many years as he or she desires. A tenure-track is a six-year window during which the university reviews the professor’s scholarly work and evaluates whether it meets departmental standards.

“Every year as a teacher, you try to do better at your teaching, and you get feedback from students,” said Jennifer Wood, a criminal justice professor who starts her tenure as associate professor in 2011, in an e-mail. “Getting tenure makes you feel more comfortable, and I suppose [boosts] your confidence level, but it never makes you apathetic.”

The review process includes three areas – research, scholarship and creative activity of appropriate national research universities in a professor’s discipline – as the Faculty Development and Faculty Affairs guidelines state. Teaching and instruction are also considered a “primary” part of the evaluation, Maleson said.

According to the guidelines, the provost, in close partnership with the president, directs the tenure review process.

Douglas Wager, the artistic director and head of directing for the department of theater, joined the faculty in 2004 and attained tenure in 2008. He said the paperwork required to apply for a tenured position had to be, “extremely detailed, covering your whole career.”

Candidates for tenured positions may also be reviewed for service to the university. The service can involve committee participation, involvement as an adviser to a group of students and other responsibilities within the university.

The TAUP union contract sets forth general standards and procedures for getting tenured, Hochner said, adding that the various steps required, as well as the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved in decision-making, make for a good system.

“We benchmark ourselves against other programs all over the country,” he said. “There probably could be some improvements, but I think [the standards] are fair, and they give people information [that] specifies who can make what decisions, and ultimately the decision goes up to the president and the Board of Trustees when it comes to tenure.”

Hochner said the process can be lengthy for the candidate’s career.

“Let’s just say you graduate at 21, take four years to get your Ph.D., and then you’re 25,” he said. “Then, you don’t come up for tenure review for another six years, so certainly you’re over 30, and some people are close to 40 when they are reviewed.”

“It takes a long time in your life, and if you get denied tenure for legitimate or whatever reason, you’ve got to start all over again somewhere else,” he added.

Tenure-on-hire candidates, who may come from different universities where they held tenure before, are held to the same standards as current faculty members.

“Sometimes you want to hire somebody who’s prominent at another university and has already gone through the tenure process,” Hochner said. “The university wanted a procedure to make it possible to hire somebody with tenure, so we negotiated over that.”

According to TAUP’s negotiations for its contract agreements last year, the review process for tenure-on-hire candidates doesn’t have to follow the same sequence as the typical tenure process.

“There could be several reviews going on at the same time, rather than having to wait to go level by level,” Hochner said. “If somebody already has their [tenure] credentials, I don’t see a reason to make them go through a sort of probationary period here.”
Hochner said any professor who doesn’t think he or she has received a fair decision after the sixth year has to go through procedures for appeal.

“It’s all set forth in the contract, and that’s [TAUP’s] primary involvement in it,” he said. “Sometimes we have people who have serious complaints … we try to help them in that sense that we want to make sure the process is fair. The union doesn’t get involved in determining whether somebody is qualified.”

The Fall 2009 Student Profile of the Provost’s Institutional Research reported that Temple had 3,480 total faculty members – 1, 895 of whom were full-time faculty and 1,585 who were part-time.

“A lot of universities don’t have positions because they’ve been going through cutbacks because of the economy and loss of funding,” Hochner said.

“You can kind of tell if [a professor] has passion in a subject and what they’re doing, then it’s a really good experience,” said Kyle Baysa, a junior business entrepreneur major. “I’ve had some tenured professors that are really excited about what they’re teaching.”

“I like the professors who have worked in the industry because I think sometimes that’s a little more helpful,” Mary Motamedi, a sophomore tourism and hospitality major, added. “They’re not just a [professor who is] teaching you what they’ve learned.”

Professor Christopher Soufas, who became a tenured Spanish professor at Temple in 2008, said tenure is like a “double-edged sword.”

“It has been said that some professors will slack off after attaining tenure,” said Soufas, who first became a tenured professor in 1989 before he came to Temple, in an e-mail. “But the advantage of having tenure is that a professor is afforded greater freedom to pursue his-her research without fear of being threatened by the institution, or the state government, for views that may run counter to conventional standards.”

Ellen Schrecker, an American history professor at Yeshiva University in New York, said there were many examples to prove the importance of the protection advantage that tenure provides.

She said during the 1950s, when the House Un-American Activities committee was questioning people about communism, a number of professors were called up but refused to participate. Among those professors summoned was then-chair of Temple’s philosophy department Barrows Dunham.

HUAC subpoenaed Dunham in February 1953. He gave his name, age and home address before he exercised his Fifth Amendment right to silence, despite encouragement from Temple administration to comply with HUAC.

“Many people believed communism was so dangerous that the Constitutional protections wouldn’t hold,” Schrecker said. “[Dunham] refused to answer any of the committee’s questions, and he felt the committee had no business questioning him.”

She said Temple’s Board of Trustees identified this as misconduct by Dunham, even though it bore no relation to his academic work. He was fired from Temple in September 1953, and his position was not restored until 1981.

“That shouldn’t have happened, and Temple ultimately apologized, but it took them decades,” Hochner said.

Schrecker said the incident highlights a big problem regarding tenure.

“It normally will protect a professor with regard to their work and teaching, and ensures them they won’t lose their job for taking the unpopular position,” she said. “But during moments of stress or emergency like 9/11 or in this case, the Cold War, universities sometimes do not protect academic freedom, even though a professor has tenure.”

Schrecker said that after Sept. 11, a few cases emerged in which tenured professors lost their jobs because of media attention and political campaigns.

Sami Al-Arian, a tenured professor of computer engineering at the University of South Florida, was active in politics and Middle East studies. USF suspended Al-Arian on Sept. 27, 2001 after he appeared on the “Bill O’Reilly Factor,” where the talk-show host said Al-Arian had terrorist connections.

USF received several threats and placed Al-Arian on paid leave before its board of trustees voted for his dismissal on Dec. 19, 2001. On Feb. 26, 2003, he was fired from his position.

“What [tenure] does is protect the quality of higher education,” Schrecker said. “It also protects someone working in an area that is very controversial, such as Middle East studies. Someone who has tenure in such a field is in a better position to take an objective stance and not be influenced to take one position or another.”

“It enables a professor to carry out teaching and research,” Schrecker added, “without outside political pressures.”

Josh Fernandez and Connor Showalter can be reached at

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.