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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

How tenure works at Guilford

For teachers entering their professional careers at Guilford and at colleges and universities around the United States, one word remains at the back of everyone’s mind: tenure. Tenure is an employment system used by most institutions of higher learning around the nation. It refers to a professor’s contractual right not to be suspended or fired without just cause.

“The primary reason that schools use the tenure system is to ensure that professors have academic freedom – that they’ll be able to disagree with the administration and not be fired just because of that,” said Frank Keegan, professor of biology.

Most agree that preservation of academic freedom is the most important justification for the tenure system. The section of Guilford’s faculty handbook entitled “Employment,” outlines academic freedom as a fundamental principle.

The handbook states, “Freedom to search for truth and to teach without fear of arbitrary interference is central to a community of learning and to the common good of the larger society. Guilford College is fully committed to the preservation of this freedom.”

“I first came to teach at Guilford in 1968,” said Elwood Parker, professor of mathematics. “Before that time . basically if you taught for so many years, for long enough, you were awarded tenure. I was among the first at Guilford to be subject to the kind of formal evaluation process that we now have.”

Guilford uses a six-year tenure review process. An applicant for tenure undergoes reviews during his second, fourth, and sixth years of teaching. At the end of the sixth year, the institution decides to award or deny tenure.

In addition to teaching biology, Keegan has served several terms on the Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC), the group responsible for evaluating new applicants for tenure.

“At my previous institution, City University of New York, the committee was composed of almost professional members.” Keegan said. “There was very little change in the composition of the committee. That often causes a lot of tension at those big institutions because a lot of the time you don’t know who those people are.”

At Guilford, for better or worse, applicants are subjected to “peer review.” Members of FAC are tenured faculty who have gone through the process. The committee rotates every few years, with no member serving more than two consecutive terms.

FAC is responsible for evaluation in each interim review as well as the sixth-year review. The academic dean and the president must then approve FAC’s decision. All decisions to award tenure are finally submitted to the board of trustees for approval.

According to the faculty handbook, all reviews are based on four criteria: “Teaching Excellence,” “Effectiveness in Advising,” “Growth as a Scholar,” and “Service to the College Community.”

“Teaching is paramount among the four areas,” Keegan said. “We don’t prioritize the other considerations in any order . There are several things we look at when evaluating teaching. Probably the most important are student evaluations.”

The evaluations done at the end of each semester are quite significant in tenure reviews.

“I’ve read studies that show that there is bias in the student evaluations and those that show no bias,” Keegan said. “I’ve even seen studies that conclude that the evaluations are worthless. But if we want to be a student-centered school, we need to listen to students.”

In addition to some controversy with regard to student evaluations, some believe that it is crucial that the process be met with strong oversight.

“As a mathematician, I value objectivity,” Parker said. “However, with tenure we are, of course, not dealing with numbers or abstractions but with people. So some level of subjectivity is, I’m sorry to say, unavoidable . It’s important, however, to ensure fairness, to minimize that subjectivity.”

Parker said that, ideally, Guilford should strive for more than the system we have in place.

“Speaking strictly from my own perspective . I would hope Guilford could try something better, more creative,” said Parker, “some system with broader participation of colleagues, that is, other faculty, in deciding who stays and goes, with procedural safeguards to ensure fairness. We’re not there yet. I don’t think, right now, Guilford has the trust to be there yet.

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