Many junior profs plan to follow new tenure rules

Five months after the University finalized changes to the process of granting tenure, many junior faculty members are choosing to switch to the new system.

In an informal poll of 42 junior professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, 34 said they would switch to the new system, one said he would remain on the old system and seven were unsure. Most of those contacted by the News said the new system finally places Yale on par with the majority of the country’s major research institutions in terms of faculty promotion procedures.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said he thinks the new tenure plan will have real advantages for junior faculty, and he is pleased their response has been so positive. Still, he said the administration is committed to continuing discussion about the promotion process, especially with those who choose not to switch to the new system.

“I’m delighted that so many of our non-tenured faculty see the new system as created in their interests,” Salovey said. “This is an important decision in the lives of the non-tenured faculty, so talking it over with colleagues, department chairs and deans is quite welcome.”

The changes to the University’s promotion system came after a 15-month tenure review. The review committee, which was chaired by Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler, was convened in response to repeated faculty criticism that the tenure system was ambiguous and antiquated.

Under the new system, which was unanimously approved by the faculty and the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences last April, financial resources will be set aside for the promotion of all junior faculty hires to tenure, provided that they meet the University’s standards of research and scholarship — a system that more closely resembles the “tenure tracks” of most other universities. The report also called for the shortening of the tenure “clock” from 10 to nine years and the creation of an additional yearlong leave for associate professors.

Vivek Sharma, assistant professor of political science, said he will likely switch to the new promotion system, although he is waiting to finalize his decision. But while Sharma said the new system is undoubtedly a step forward for the University, he doubts it will make a significant difference in tenure practices in his department, which he said depend largely upon the attitudes of the department’s administrators and senior faculty members.

“My sense is that what really matters for tenure is really the attitude of the senior faculty and that had changed anyway, at least in political science,” Sharma said. “Initially when I got here, it was still rhetorical that they were going to make a serious effort to tenure people.”

Sharma also said that his department has little trouble recruiting faculty. Last year, for example, seven of the eight candidates who were offered positions in the department accepted them.

Assistant professor of statistics Jay Emerson said he thinks one of the most important aspects of the new system is the elimination of open searches, in which junior faculty members up for tenure were compared to colleagues at other universities, who then could be recruited for the position in question. Now, faculty members will have a chance to gain tenure “based on the merits of their case” rather than in an open pool of international candidates, he said.

But some faculty members, particularly those who will be considered for promotion this year, said the decision to adopt the new system is more complicated for them.

An assistant professor in the humanities who is approaching tenure review and asked to remain anonymous said that although the new system is undoubtedly an improvement, faculty members up for review are nervous about being the first ones evaluated under the new system. Committee members have stressed that the standards for promotion will remain as high as ever.

“Under the old system, you know what to expect, and it’s not to say that the standards are different, but there’s a track record,” the professor said. “You don’t really want to be the test case, even though the system is a great system.”

In October, administrators plan to have information sessions for junior professors to learn more about their options, Salovey said.

“What we hope is to be as clear as is possible about how the new system works and some of the issues that they ought to consider when making their selection,” Butler said. “But it’s very important they make the decision based on their own perceptions of their own interests, and they’re the only ones who can do that.”

One untenured professor in the physical sciences, who asked to remain anonymous, said there are still many imperfect aspects of the tenure and appointments system that have yet to be explored thoroughly by the administration. The professor said that while the promise of dedicating resources for the potential promotion of every junior faculty hire “makes a wonderful sound byte,” the University cannot afford to tenure too many faculty members in the long run.

“You cannot afford to tenure everyone, even if they’re qualified,” the faculty member said. “I don’t really think that sort of thing has been openly discussed and acknowledged.”

Salovey said the goal of the new system is to ensure that no faculty member who deserves tenure fails to receive it due to a lack of resources.

During the 2006-2007 academic year, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences included 240 untenured professors and 389 tenured professors, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

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