Guilford College Response to Eleanor Branch Tenure Decision

On Feb. 24, 2007, the board of trustees of Guilford College accepted the recommendation of the Academic Affairs Committee of the board to deny a tenure appeal by Eleanor Branch, assistant professor of English. The decision by the Academic Affairs Committee represents the final appeal available to Eleanor Branch and the end of a College process that began in November 2005 and has lasted more than a year.Tenure is a personnel matter, and the College generally says little in order to protect the privacy of those involved. However, because this case received front-page coverage in the student newspaper and many on campus discussed it openly, including the candidate herself, some additional information about the decision process and the nature of tenure itself is appropriate.

1. Tenure is not a right; it is a privilege that is earned at Guilford by achieving excellence in teaching, as well as by meeting very high standards of community service, advising and growth as a scholar. The tenure review process is faculty driven, which means that members of the faculty evaluate each other. It is essential that tenure be earned in order to maintain the significance of the distinction and the integrity of the college.

2. Students may comment on the performance of a faculty member being considered for tenure through:
 Confidential letters solicited by the Office of the Academic Dean from students and advisees
 Course evaluations
 Letters invited through The Beacon in an announcement from the Academic Dean advising the community of those faculty who would be reviewed for tenure

3. After reviewing all of the material related to the Eleanor Branch case, the following persons/groups from different backgrounds and different parts of the campus all concluded that the standards for tenure had not been achieved:
 Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC) composed of five tenured faculty members
 Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean
 President
 A specially-appointed Presidential Advisory Committee of seven current or retired tenured faculty members (some of whom were also on the FAC) to advise the President on this case

4. In response to a discrimination claim by Eleanor Branch, nationally recognized civil rights expert and former university chancellor Julius Chambers reviewed this matter and concluded that race was not a legal or deciding factor in the FAC’s decision.

5. In addition, an Appeals Board of three tenured faculty members investigated the claim of discrimination in the process and determined that discrimination did not exist.

6. Finally, the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees, after a thorough review, concluded that proper procedures had been followed with respect to the tenure decision.

It is notable that consensus was achieved at each level of decision making.

Adrienne Israel is vice president for academic affairs and academic dean and has served on faculty since 1982. She said, “While we have respect for and have considered the views of Eleanor Branch and her advocates, those of us who were closely involved with this matter are convinced that the process was conducted with integrity and that the decision was the right one. We have heard those voices who have suggested that the process should be improved. We recognize that every tenure process can be improved and no process is perfect. Indeed, over the years, improvements to Guilford’s process have been implemented, and we will continue to work to achieve the best one possible.”

In the wake of the FAC’s decision denying tenure, some members of our campus community have raised the specter of racism, both in the tenure review process and in the college generally. Dean Israel, who is herself African-American, rejects the contention that racism explains why Eleanor Branch was not recommended for tenure.

Guilford is a diverse community that is working to be anti-racist. Unlike many educational institutions, it has an Anti-racism Plan and a team actively working to implement it. And Guilford has done more than just develop a plan. The College has funded these efforts within its strategic long range plan for 2005-2010. In terms of diversity, 28% of Guilford’s students are people of color, exceeding the averages of peer and aspirant colleges and the goals of the strategic plan. The percentage of faculty who are people of color (currently 15% versus the strategic plan goal of 17%) exceeds the averages of both peer and aspirant colleges.

College leadership and those closely involved with this matter realize that some members of the Guilford community are disappointed that Eleanor Branch will not be joining the ranks of Guilford’s tenured faculty, and we accept the fact that differences of opinion will persist over this decision.