KSU considering revisions to its tenure policies

Colin Morris

Changes could make research a higher priority

If new recommendations for revising Kent State’s policies on tenure and promotions are accepted by the Faculty Senate and Board of Trustees, a lot could change in some departments, including the requirements of faculty research.

These questions and answers are based on those recommendations and interviews with faculty and administrators.

Q: What are tenure and promotion?

A: Tenure is a contract protecting a professor from being terminated without serious misconduct.

Aside from job security, it gives professors the freedom to adopt unpopular views or devote time and resources to researching and teaching taboo topics without fear of retribution.

Promotion refers to movement through the ranks of assistant to associate to full professor. Now it is independent of application for tenure.

Lots of faculty, like adjunct and part-time professors, aren’t tenure track and aren’t affected by these policies.

Most tenure-track instructors are first hired as assistant professors, a position that is renewed every year. After five years, a professor can apply for tenure. If he or she doesn’t get it, he or she has to leave the university one year later.

Before a professor gets tenure or promotion, he or she has to re-apply to keep his or her job every year. It is rare that a professor would not be reappointed.

Q: How do tenure and promotion policies affect students?

A: A university’s reputation as a research institution affects the prestige of the degrees it awards its graduates.

But tenure and promotions policies also determine what kind of teachers are hired and sustained at the university. Some faculty members are better researchers than teachers and vice versa.

So it can be argued that tenure and promotion policies that favor faculty who conduct research and produce scholarship can hurt those faculty who are great teachers but unproductive researchers.

Conversely, policies too protective of unproductive faculty do little to advance the university’s campaign to distinguish itself as a research institution.

This can make the revision of tenure and promotions policies a tedious process and a touchy subject.

A large part of tenure and promotion policies deals with the criteria for each. Different universities’ policies emphasize different aspects of professors’ work when considering their candidacy.

That body of work can include teaching, professional experience and involvement in their field and research and the publication of their findings.

Q: Why revise the existing policies?

A: For years, the university has evaluated faculty for tenure and promotion using a model named after Ernest Boyer, a former U.S. commissioner of education. He proposed in a 1990 report, “Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate,” that teachers in higher education ought to teach, do research and serve in their communities at the same time.

Previously, Boyer argued, scholarship was limited to a “hierarchy of functions” that prioritized research and publication over conveying that new knowledge to students.

His report pushed for a broader definition of scholarship that would “move beyond the tired old ‘teaching versus research’ debate” and divide the term into four elements: the scholarship of discovery, the scholarship of integration, the scholarship of application and the scholarship of teaching.

The Boyer Model was so well- received that tenure and promotion policies across the country were changed to incorporate it.

Times have changed. Ardent supporters of the Boyer Model, like former Kent State President Carol Cartwright, the immediate predecessor to current President Lester Lefton, now seem to be in the minority at this university.

Provost Robert Frank says Boyer was poorly applied at Kent State, and discussions with faculty and the Board of Trustees focused on the school’s role as a public research university leading up to Lefton’s hire.

“The choice of President Lefton reflects that preference,” he said. “Lefton’s mandate is to increase Kent State’s role as a research university. The Boyer Model is not the right paradigm for enhancing that reputation.”

Frank was hired as provost by the Board of Trustees after Lefton. Frank says establishing Kent State’s research reputation and changing the Boyer Model was high on the to-do list.

“At Kent, the Boyer Model obfuscates the definition of scholarship,” he said. “When we’re (reviewing a candidate for tenure), the more Boyer is cited, the weaker (the candidate) tends to be.”

The administration charged the Faculty Senate with revising the policies about 17 months ago.

Q: Who’s in charge of revising the policies, and how do they do it?

A: A committee of the Faculty Senate called Professional Standards is responsible for proposing policy revisions related to hiring, firing and employment policies that affect faculty.

Committee chair Susan Roxburgh, associate professor of sociology, said designing the recommendations was a complicated process.

“It’s been about a year and a half,” she said. “We needed to ensure that we had received as much input as possible from all the constituents involved.”

Among the most significant changes the committee recommended at the Nov. 2 Faculty Senate meeting was the removal of the Boyer Model from the criteria and the realigning of policies that contradicted each other because they had been revised separately over the years.

Roxburgh cited the following example in an open letter to the Faculty Senate:

Because the tenure and promotions policies had never been reviewed simultaneously by the Professional Standards Committee, on-time tenure took place after a tenure-track professor had been at the university for five years, while promotion could be awarded after four.

“This has created the peculiar circumstance in which a faculty member was judged to have met the criteria for on-time promotion,” Roxburgh wrote, “but failed to meet the criteria for early tenure and thus was denied on-time promotion.

“This is a single instance of many inconsistencies between the two policies that we have endeavored to address.”

Roxburgh echoed Frank in saying that today, supporters of the Boyer Model, which has been the focal point of debate surrounding the revisions, are in the minority at Kent State.

“Boyer works well for some departments, but not all,” she said. “Under the new policy, those departments will be able to write (Boyer-like incentives for faculty) into their handbooks.”

The freedom of individual departments to write their own specifications for tenure and promotions criteria is important because a faculty member’s first step to either is a recommendation from his or her department.

From there, the department chair (or director, in a school like music or fashion design and merchandising) convenes an advisory committee that votes up or down on the tenure or policy review.

The department chair then sends a letter of recommendation to the college dean, who makes a recommendation to the provost after advice from a college committee. The provost convenes a university-wide committee that advises him on the decision.

There are procedures for appealing rejections at all levels.

Q: What happens next?

A: Faculty Senate Chair Tom Janson said the senate will discuss the recommendations until it is “completely satisfied with the results.”

If the Faculty Senate approves the recommendations, Janson will personally present them to the Board of Trustees and field its questions. There is no official deadline.

After board approval, University Legal Counsel will prepare the revisions in proper terminology for submission to the Ohio Board of Regents, which Janson said is likely to approve them after a standard waiting period.

Contact faculty affairs reporter Colin Morris at [email protected].