Blogs > Cliopatria > Colorado and Tenure

Jan 4, 2006 4:59 pm


Colorado and Tenure



Very interesting article in this morning's Chronicle about the University of Colorado's decision to institute a general review--under strong political pressure--of its tenure process. The subtext question: was the decision to hire and tenure Ward Churcill an anomaly, or a signal of a broader problem in the system? The university has hired a retired Air Force general, Howell Estes, to run the process. It's clear that Estes was hired in part because he has credibility with the legislature. Estes also hired a consulting team from PriceWaterhouseCoopers to assist him.

A couple of revealing elements from the article. First, the AAUP, while not opposing Estes' selection, did oppose the selection of the outside consultants. AAUP general secreatry Roger Bowen remarked that the AAUP has more knowledge and experience in the field of tenure. Quite so. But over the last couple of years, the AAUP's conduct has revealed it to be excessively partisan on the issues related to the Colorado inquiry. It's unfortunate that the AAUP seems to have lost some credibility on whether it can speak objectively to the question of whether the higher education personnel system might be improved.

Second, Colorado apparently has a system of post-tenure review in place. Critics contend that the fact that Ward Churchill regularly survived post-tenure review proves that system isn't working either.

I'm generally supportive of post-tenure review: I see no reason for a system that allows those who receive tenure to then shirk one of the two main qualifications--producing scholarship--for which they were granted tenure in the first place. That said, it seems to me that those institutions with effective tenure processes in place are those least likely to need post-tenure reviews. And schools that use tenure to determine factors other than academic quality are also those likely to see to it that post-tenure review doesn't work well.

Anyhow, I'll be intrigued to see what kind of report Estes produces.

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Robert KC Johnson - 1/5/2006

I agree that the concept can be quite problemmatic. I did a post a while back on the post-tenure review proces sat Rochester Inst. of Technnology, which has veered in very odd pedagogical directions over the last couple of years, where the post-tenure review is basically an attempt to force people to adopt the provost's curricular theories. Very dangerous.

I'd have no problem with any of the suggestions you offer: Holding back promotions, pay raises, and increasing class load on non-performers. At a place like CUNY, though, where the contract mandates that salary is determined strictly by seniority and all teaching loads must be equal (except for in very rare cases), those options are off the table. So there's basically nothing to prevent someone from receiving tenure and then publishing, say, 12 pages, or writing only two minor journal articles, for the next 25 years.

I think that any type of post-tenure review--to work as it should--would have to be very limited--i.e., is the professor still engaging in research; and is the professor still teaching his/her courses? Anything beyond that, I agree, isn't a good idea.


David T. Beito - 1/4/2006

I think you are far too trust in Post Tenure review.

Either it is a total sop to legislators or, worse, a potential tool by administrators to silence trouble makers.

Holding back promotions, pay raises, and increasing class load on non-performers seem like far better ways to do with any problems. I am happy to say that I am in one of the (dwindling) states which still does not have post tenure review.

Also, if we have post tenure review, can we accurately claim in any meaningful that we still have tenure. Perhaps we should then call it something else.

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