The University Record, April 12, 1999

LS&A faculty discuss two tenure and promotions systems

By Kerry Colligan

The ideal tenure and promotions system would yield valid, reliable results and minimal false-positive or false-negative results; protect academic freedom; and treat the individual fairly while providing "an air of fairness to the institution."

"The design of a tenure and promotions system is like the design of any institutional process, it is a very imperfect process more like art than science," said Steve Rosenstone, at the LS&A faculty meeting last week. Rosenstone was joined by Stephen Director, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering. Together they laid out two different tenure and promotions systems as a means of fostering discussion about the LS&A system.

At the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota, where Rosenstone is dean, several aspects of the tenure system are distinct from the LS&A system. Among those, he said, each department has a written statement of its standards for achieving tenure, and both positive and negative recommendations are forwarded to the provost for review.

Both of these differences raised questions among LS&A faculty, including the specificity of the standards. While the standards can provide a false sense of security, Rosenstone said, they move the debate about standards out of the individual case. "It is not the savior," he added.

Having cases reviewed on multiple levels serves as a check on discrimination, quality and fair process, Rosenstone said. It also provides a means for internal review in the event that cases are taken to court. "I have a sense that the sting of the 'no' is the same, but it helps."

Where Rosenstone's system utilizes multi-level review, the College of Engineering's system uses large-group review and presentations to identify the best candidates.

In short, candidates prepare casebooks that are reviewed first by a casebook committee, then by various departmental committees, then by the department chair. Each of those reviews (whether positive or negative) is forwarded to the College Executive Committee. After an initial review by the Executive Committee, each case is presented and discussed in a group meeting that includes the Executive Committee, department chairs, associate deans and the dean.

Negative recommendations from this group meeting are not forwarded to the provost as they are at Minnesota. "It is not so much the denial of tenure as it is not awarding tenure," Director explained. "People not approved for tenure can be a good match at another institution."

The process works fairly well, Director explained. It is new in the last two years and has prompted a marked improvement in the quality of presentations made by department chairs. "It is important to have the chairs read all the casebooks, because it raises the standard and promotes collaboration among departments," Director said.

There remains room for improvement, he added. "The casebook committee is given latitude to investigate cases but more often than not, that committee advocates for the candidate. They do not always reflect on all the weaknesses in each case. The hardest thing for the casebook committee is to focus on the impact of the case, not the numbers."

According to Interim LS&A Dean Pat Gurin, these models will contribute to the College's discussion of tenure so that incoming Dean Shirley Neuman will have a solid foundation on which to strengthen or revise the tenure and promotions system.