Tenure

One of my professors, Yumna Siddiqi, recently celebrated receiving tenure here at Middlebury College. She had a lot to share about her feelings on the process. The process goes something like this:

A new teacher is hired on one of three tracks: part-time, short-term contract (2-5 years), or tenure track. Part time teachers are becoming increasingly more common especially in big universities that want to cut costs. Essentially, part time teachers are contracted to teach one or two classes without benefits. This saves the school from having to provide for the long term care of the teacher (pension, health care, maternity, etc.). The short-term contracts (with benefits) pay well, at least here at Midd, but come with a great deal of insecurity too. Teachers have a hard time settling down permanently in a community and are most concerned about teaching over their publishing. Academic freedom of publishing is a bit limited this way too. If a teacher is in the tenure track, she is called an assistant professor and has between three and eight years to put themselves up for tenure review. Tenure review combines the achievements of a teacher both in their teaching and in their publishing. Usually, a candidate must have published a book along with several well-received journal articles. The book and research is sent out for outside review while internally the school will go over student evaluations and in-class observations. If a teacher receives tenure, she is called an associate professor and is guarenteed a certain amount of job security. If a teacher does not received tenure, she is asked to leave the school within the next year.

Tenure certainly is one of the hot-topics of higher education as of late. Should any teacher be essentially guarenteed a job for life? Some say that teachers should not be afraid of being reviewed every couple years to ensure a high quality of teaching and that it is absurd to not be able to fire a teacher even if it is clearly warrented. Others say that tenure gives teachers the necessary freedom and security to make lasting contributions in their teaching and in their publishing. Obviously, the answer lies somewhere in between. We want transparency but we also want to allow teachers to feel safe enough to take risks.

My professor was particularly angry that a few of her fellow professors did not get tenure. Jennifer Post was denied tenure after 27 years of part-time and short-term contracts that kept her here at Middlebury. Another professor received a wave of student support in the form of several opinion pieces in the Middlebury newspaper, The Campus after being denied tenure in the Sociology Department.

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