Alumni and friends of the College frequently ask if I
favor the retention of the tenure system for Colby faculty. They are often
startled by my emphatic "yes." Although there can be mistakes in tenure
decisions and there are opportunities to abuse the privilege, my experience in
16 years at Colby is that these risks are small when compared to the
significant advantages of the tenure system for our students and for the
First and foremost, the continuing heart of a college is its faculty. Students, trustees, presidents and staff turn over with some regularity, but tenured faculty make a lifetime commitment to a college and are deeply invested in its quality and its future. Faculty are the custodians of the values of a college and the guarantors of its continuing excellence. It behooves the administration and the trustees to provide the resources and the environment to liberate the creativity of the faculty and to sustain their dedicated work over a lifetime of effort. The tenure system plays a fundamental role in that process and guarantees academic freedom, enabling the entire institution to seek truth unfettered by imposed orthodoxy.
The recruitment and evaluation systems leading to tenure at Colby are not unlike those in finance and law, the granting of tenure being equivalent to becoming a partner. In all cases there is a probationary period, rigorous testing, careful evaluation by the senior members of the organization and, finally, a decision that generally leads to a lifetime association.
In law and banking, of course, partnerships are not as secure as they once were, with many recent examples of senior partners being asked to retire early or otherwise alter their status in the face of radically changed economic circumstances. So, too, colleges may, in a financial crisis, terminate programs and end the tenure of the faculty in those programs. In higher education, the example is rare, whereas the early termination of partners seems to have become more common.
The pre-tenure or pre-partnership period is one of incredibly hard work and extreme pressure on young people, pressures compounded in higher education, because the scholarly work is submitted to review by those outside the college. The probationary period at Colby involves four separate, rigorous steps. First, all candidates have participated in national--and, sometimes, even international--searches involving 100 to 900 applicants. The tenure-track appointee typically has gone through interviews off campus and extensive reference checks, as well as interviews and model lectures on the campus. After that extremely competitive process, the successful candidate is normally given only a one-year contract.
Mid-way through the first year, the candidate undergoes a second evaluation. Assuming sound teaching and acceptable progress in scholarship, the typical candidate receives a three-year contract renewal. If doubts arise during the first year, the person might be given only a one-year renewal and would be subjected to a further evaluation during the second year.
The third evaluation is a comprehensive pre-tenure examination during the sixth semester of teaching. This involves a departmental committee of at least three members which reviews: the candidate's course syllabi, assignments, examinations and laboratory instructions; all material published or submitted by the candidate and any published reviews of that material; statements from the candidate evaluating his or her own teaching, advising, scholarship and contributions to the department, the College and the discipline; a statement by the department chair evaluating the candidate's teaching as a result of departmental peer review; all evaluation forms that have been submitted by students in the candidate's courses; and statistical summaries that compare student ratings of that candidate's teaching with departmental, division and all-College averages. If the candidate passes this third review, she or he is normally granted a pre-tenure sabbatical to complete an important scholarly or creative work and is given a three-year contract extension.
The fourth review is for tenure itself. The same kinds of materials involved in the sixth-semester review are gathered for the six-year period, and the scholarship of the candidate is submitted to disinterested (non-Colby) experts for review. These materials (collectively called "the dossier") are once more examined by the departmental committee, which makes a report and recommendation to the elected, nine-person faculty Committee on Promotion and Tenure. All faculty, including those not yet tenured, are eligible to vote in the election of the committee. Once elected, faculty serve a three-year staggered term to ensure continuity and consistency over time.
The Promotion and Tenure Committee, chaired by the dean of faculty, will spend countless hours reviewing each dossier and discussing whether the candidate meets the high Colby standards for teaching, scholarship and service. Members of that committee vote individually on whether to recommend tenure, and each member submits to me a detailed evaluation of every tenure candidate in which they compare the teaching, scholarship and service of the candidate to the very best faculty tenured in recent years.
The committee, the dean and I have operated on the principle "when in doubt, don't tenure." Consequently, on average only two-thirds of those who reach the tenure decision year are recommended for tenure. Others fail to pass the first or third year reviews. In fact, some have worried that, given the rigor of our tenure policies, faculty turnover at Colby might be too high. This fear is mitigated by the fact that there is no annual tenure quota. Our procedures emphasize that "who is tenured is more important than how many." Nevertheless, the overall percentage of tenured faculty at Colby is comparatively low, allowing us to continue to hire young faculty, fresh from graduate education, who bring to the campus the latest developments in their disciplines. In the fall of 1994, of the 140 tenure-track positions at Colby, only 77 were tenured--52 percent of the full-time teaching faculty.
Finally, the tenure system itself is regularly reviewed by a joint committee of faculty or the Committee on Promotion and Tenure and Trustee members of the Educational Policy Committee of the Board, to be certain that it is serving the best interest of the College and the faculty.
Those who achieve partnership in a law or investment firm or tenure in higher education achieve professional security, while those who do not are often expected to leave. In colleges they must leave, because the rules of the American Association of University Professors (which Colby adopted in 1971) prohibit the full-time employment of teachers beyond seven years without tenure. In the examples of law and banking, there is generally no fixed limit on the probationary period and individuals can be passed over in one decision year but made partners in a subsequent round. In colleges, this is not possible.
|I've found that the granting of tenure liberates faculty members to be more productive and important contributors to the quality of teaching and campus life, and their finest scholarly work is usually produced after the tenure decision.|
Some commentators concede that the pre-tenure selection and decision-making
process is indeed rigorous, but they worry that faculty may reduce their
efforts once they obtain tenure and lifetime security. My experience at Colby
is to the contrary. In virtually every case, the granting of tenure has
liberated that faculty member to become an even more productive and important
contributor to the quality of our academic and campus life, and her or his
finest scholarly work is usually produced after the tenure decision, not
before. Tenured faculty are motivated by a pride in their profession, a sense
of responsibility and a recognition that they are the real "owners" of the
College. In addition, the tenure selection process looks forward and tends to
yield only those who are most likely to be stimulating teachers, productive
scholars and active participants over a 30-year career.
Moreover, the tenure decision is not the end of student and peer evaluation of our faculty. Students continue to rate the effectiveness of teaching through their written evaluations at the end of every course, and these evaluations are closely reviewed each semester by the faculty member and the department chair. In addition, Colby maintains a merit salary system in which faculty members, department chairs and the dean of faculty review teaching, scholarship and service every third year throughout their tenure. The merit system can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the lifetime earnings of the most outstanding faculty.
Faculty also undergo a complete internal and external review, equivalent in all respects to the tenure decision process, when they are nominated for promotion to full professor. But, some have asked, what if the full professor becomes ill or unproductive? There are procedures--although they are, properly, circumscribed with great safeguards--that allow the College to require a faculty member to take a medical leave (which can sometimes become permanent). In other cases, faculty can be dismissed by the College for "adequate cause" that is "related directly and substantially to the fitness of the faculty member as a teacher or a researcher." This procedure is rarely used in higher education, although there are many instances of negotiated terminations in cases where faculty members have become less productive.
Finally, the question has been raised whether there is a danger that faculty members will stay well beyond normal retirement, a problem that does not occur in partnerships, where there is usually a mandatory retirement age established as part of the partnership agreement. This is certainly a potential problem, but it has not become one at Colby. Very few faculty teach beyond 65 and many retire earlier. Still others have reduced their teaching loads from full to part time as they approach retirement. It will be important for the College to encourage retirement around age 65, and I hope that our pension and retiree health programs will continue to make that possible for our senior faculty, who have, in most cases, given their entire professional careers to Colby.
Some also worry that the tenure system will inhibit the College from making the curricular changes that are necessary to respond to societal changes and student demand for new courses. This danger is mitigated by the fact that faculty themselves are constantly updating their own material and introducing new courses. Moreover, there is sufficient turnover (retirements, resignations, denials of tenure or contract renewal, etc.) to enable the College to make new appointments in emerging disciplines. Also, the curriculum tends to evolve more slowly at a liberal arts college as compared to vocational-oriented institutions where rapid adaptations are needed to meet the changing demands of technology or of the market place. So, too, 75 to 80 percent of Colby graduates will go on to graduate school where more specifically vocational training is best offered.
Colby depends heavily upon the volunteer efforts of the faculty who take on advising, mentoring, committee and other service activities well beyond that which would be found in any sensible job description. The great bulk of that volunteer effort--the extra time with students, the long hours on campus committees, the special efforts with alumni and regular consultations with trustees--comes from tenured members of the faculty.
If we did not have a tenure system, we simply could not compete for the best and brightest graduate students who prefer appointments at colleges where tenure is possible. Moreover, even if tenure fell out of favor everywhere, this might, arguably, reduce the number of people going into college teaching because relatively low salaries combined with no job security would make teaching less attractive. Tenure may, in fact, enable colleges to attract and hold very able people for less money, since they have the benefit of lifetime job security. Even if tenure were abandoned elsewhere, I am not certain that it would be wise for Colby to drop its tenure program. Maintaining this system would give us a competitive edge in recruiting and retaining the very best faculty, thus providing our students with a superior education at no additional expense
|The Faculty Handbook makes it clear that the "paramount criterion" in determining whether a faculty member should receive tenure is "the candidate's excellence as a teacher and advisor."|
Of course, there are costs to the tenure system. Faculty members do not
punch time clocks and are relatively free to minimize their workload if they
choose to abuse the system. Some faculty members, in fact, do so, but they are
so few in number that those costs of the system, for me at least, are clearly
outweighed by the overwhelming benefits. Moreover, because of the merit system,
the possibility of removing faculty, and other sanctions and rewards available
to the College, it is unlikely that abuse of tenure would become
The Balance Between Teaching and Scholarship
Colby is a teaching institution, and having a tenure system allows us to maintain a wise balance between teaching and scholarship. Emphasis on first-rate teaching is what distinguishes liberal arts colleges in the United States from research universities. All of our tenured faculty teach the same five-course load (or four courses plus laboratories in the natural sciences) and virtually all faculty teach all classes--freshman through seniors--every year.
Whereas undergraduate education will frequently be neglected at institutions where graduate and professional programs dominate, the opposite is true for the American college. In the large universities, students frequently receive the bulk of their instruction from graduate students, but that never happens at Colby. Our students may work as research assistants to our faculty, an opportunity typically available only to university graduate students. The central nature of teaching is so much a part of the ethos of Colby that most of the senior administrators teach at least one course each year.
The Faculty Handbook makes it clear that the "paramount criterion" in determining whether a faculty member should receive tenure is "the candidate's excellence as a teacher and adviser." Such excellence has become the sine qua non for tenure at Colby, although the Committee on Promotion and Tenure also looks for "demonstrated continued scholarly activity and professional development and potential for continued growth." The committee requires that research, publications or other professional activities must be "judged by peers and by outside referees." Finally, service to the department, to the College and to the discipline "is expected."
It is undoubtedly true that research expectations among Colby faculty have increased over the years, but this has not been at the expense of their commitment to first-rate teaching. Indeed, in most cases our finest scholars are also among our finest teachers. Our faculty is motivated to continue the research or creative activities that have been an integral part of their self-definition at least since graduate school. Their scholarship informs their teaching and helps keep it fresh. Trends in many fields move research and teaching closer together as Colby students actively participate in faculty research both during the academic year and in the summer.
Virtually all our seniors, in their exit interviews, give highest marks to the quality of teaching and the interaction with faculty. This was reconfirmed in the Princeton Review, in which Colby students ranked our faculty in the top 20 of all colleges and universities for "bringing material to life" and told the editors: "The best things about Colby College are the excellence and the approachability of the professors." The Review went on: "This respect for the faculty prevails throughout the student body. Professors are warmly described over and over as `committed,' `outstanding,' `always available,' and so on."
Some note that a faculty member teaches "only two or three courses a semester" and make an assumption that the total workload consists of the six or nine hours a week in the classroom.
My own experience in teaching Government 319 every fall is that I need about two full weeks in the summer to revise the course, produce the syllabus and obtain the new materials. I then spend about two to three hours to prepare for each hour of class time and many more hours in meetings with students, writing and correcting quizzes and examinations, making suggested changes in drafts of term papers, and then grading the final paper. Consequently, I estimate that I spend 10 to 15 hours a week on my single course. This will be double for a faculty member with two courses a semester and triple for those with three.
Most faculty have many more students to advise than I have, many teach courses with much larger enrollments and virtually all have substantial committee and other extracurricular obligations that can require from relatively few to more than 20 hours a week for one who serves on particularly time-consuming College committees.
Faculty also devote time to searches for new faculty members, peer evaluation, contract renewals and tenure and promotion committees. We also expect faculty to interact outside of class, in informal settings with students. Faculty cheer for the athletic teams, attend the plays, concerts and readings and join students for lectures, residence hall discussions and other activities.
In addition, many faculty supervise a large number of independent student projects for which they get no teaching relief, including in the especially time-consuming Senior Scholars program. Finally, faculty are expected to be active in their profession, attend regional and national meetings, bring distinguished speakers to the campus and be active scholars who publish.
There is literally not enough time during the week for faculty to do all that is expected, and yet many faculty participate and excel in virtually all the responsibilities I have cited. This will frequently require seven-day weeks, one after another. There is a long summer break, but that is the time when most faculty get the chance to pursue their research and to prepare new courses for the coming year. Many faculty remain on campus with Colby research assistants during this period, not only advancing the scholarship of the faculty member but giving unique opportunities for Colby students to become research colleagues with very talented teachers. Other faculty are revising courses, continuing work on College committees (some of which are active in the summer) and pursuing administrative duties as department and division chairs. I hope they also use the summer for some real rest--and time with their families--so they can return reinvigorated to meet the new class and the pace of the fall semester.
Our faculty, almost universally, is composed of dedicated men and women who give of themselves much more extensively--to their students, to the College and to their profession--than, perhaps, we have any right to expect.
To sustain that excellence for the generations to come we have initiated, as part of The Campaign for Colby, an effort to increase the number of endowed faculty chairs. Trustees, Overseers and other good friends of the College have responded magnificently to that challenge, and we have now increased the number of fully endowed chairs from 4 in 1990 to 24 in 1994. These chairs enable us to say a special "thank you" to faculty leaders who have continued to put teaching first, but who also have generally been very active in College service and have achieved national and international reputations as scientists, scholars, artists, musicians and writers. In addition, new chairs reinforce the decision of the Trustees to pay among the highest competitive salaries at peer institutions, since those named to chairs receive a substantial salary increase. This has helped to signal our continuing commitment to the faculty, who, in turn, have given of their creativity, energy, and loyalty to keep Colby in the first ranks of national liberal arts colleges. Support of the tenure system sends an equally important message.