How Manhattan Fits Into Conversations About Tenure



The reviewing process for tenure-track professors is officially over. It will begin again next semester, when a new batch of faculty members applies to secure their job positions as well as intellectual freedom at Manhattan.

But what is the process like and how does it mean for professors, most of who are conducting research as well as guiding undergraduates? And how does Manhattan fit into the larger conversations critiquing tenure and questioning its value?

Like other colleges and universities, Manhattan has a methodical approach to tenure. The school’s Council for Faculty Affairs (CFA), which oversees aspects of the educational experience at the college, supervises several standing committees at the college. One of these committees, the Promotion and Tenure Committee, manages professors who are seeking promotion in general.

Typically, these professors fill out two applications. The department chairs, moreover, fill out reviews for tenure-track professors.

Applications are submitted during the middle of the fall semester. By November, these applications find their way to deans; a month later, the provost reviews them. The Promotion and Tenure Committee begins the final procedures in February of the next semester.

“It is serious,” Brother Patrick Horner, professor of English and member of the Promotion and Tenure Committee, said about the actual process. “Everyone, but particularly the faculty members, has a sense of the importance of this and what’s at stake.

“The way higher education is organized, someone has to attain tenure to have some type of longevity and job security,” Brother Horner continued.

Accordingly, the process doesn’t begin with a few forms in the fall semester.

[Tenure typically] begins with the hiring,” Dr. William Clyde, provost at Manhattan, said. “In fact, some faculty are hiring into a tenure track line. And some are hired into a non-tenure track line.”

Some hired faculty members come from other institutions with tenure or positions as chairs. Those special cases notwithstanding, the tenure-track takes six years. Professors are reviewed annually throughout those six years, with a special focus on the third year.

Basically, the goal of that time is to…show the trajectory of an accomplished faculty member who is a great teacher on [his or her] way to becoming a better teacher,” Dr. Clyde said. The annual reviews also look into how the applicant is evolving as “an established researcher on [his or her] way to having a fruitful life as a scholar.”

Along with the roles as scholars and teachers, Dr. Clyde added, professors seeking tenure are also reviewed on their contribution to the Manhattan community.

Professors at Manhattan, in other words, learn to balance researching, writing and guiding young minds to do the same.

“In the best case, [research and teaching] are synergistic,” Dr. Clyde said. “First of all, you’ve got to stay current in your field. Second, you want to model the life of a scholar for your students.”

The practice of tenure stretches back into history, with landmark moments in 1887, when 10,000 teachers met in Chicago for the first conference of the National Educator’s Association, and 1910, when New Jersey granted fair-dismal rights to professors. By the 1920s, these rights were extended to elementary and high schools.

According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), tenure is meant to secure “certain ends, specifically…[the] freedom of teaching and research and of extramural activities, and…a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive.” The term “freedom” refers to the liberty professors have when they approach both their teaching in the classroom and their research in specific disciplines. While they are able to write and speak freely as citizens, tenured professors also have “special obligations” to the communities they serve.

Some critics find faults in this system. Adam Grant, a full professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, recently wrote in “The New York Times” that tenure “ask[s] researchers to be teachers, and teachers to do research.” James C. Wetherbe, information systems professor at Texas Tech University, associates “classified teaching techniques” in the face of the latter boom in technology to the practice of tenure. Last fall, a team of researchers in Northwestern University led by Morton O. Schapiro found “consistent evidence that students learn relatively more from non-tenure line professors in their introductory courses.” These students in the study were identified as either “average” or “less qualified.”

These critiques of tenure identify at least one premise: the relationship between teaching and researching is a complex one that directly affects the professor and shapes the classroom experience. Ideas about the ability to measure published research and the inability to measure the professor’s evolving performance in the classroom, too, emerge from that premise.

anhattan’s size and classroom intimacy suggest that research and teaching are not in conflict, but rather in dialogue.

“As a relatively small institution and as a primarily undergraduate institution, [Manhattan] in a sense will never be a research-first institution,” Brother Horner said. “And that’s value frankly.