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Faculty Tenure Process

At the request of the Macalester College Student Government, the Provost’s Office prepared answers to this set of questions about the tenure process. The questions were provided by students interested in gaining a better understanding of how the process works and their role in that process. The Provost’s Office encourages active participation of all students in the evaluation of faculty teaching, especially at the time of formal reviews for tenure and promotion.

General Questions

What does tenure mean for a professor?
Tenure is designed to protect faculty members’ academic freedom, ensuring that they may freely express their views in the classroom and through their scholarship. Faculty with tenure can anticipate continued employment at an institution unless that institution declares financial exigency, discontinues a program or department of instruction, or proves that the faculty member cannot fulfill his/her professional responsibilities.

How does tenure benefit students?
The potential for tenure allows us to recruit and appoint the very best faculty available. The tenure review ensures that faculty have reached and maintained the level of excellence expected of Macalester faculty.

What is the tenure process at Macalester?
The general review criteria for faculty and the guidelines for both the pre-tenure review and tenure review are described in detail in the Faculty Handbook (gdoc).

How do Mac’s criteria for granting tenure fit with the college’s mission?
Macalester’s mission statement says, “Macalester is committed to being a preeminent liberal arts college with an educational program known for its high standards for scholarship and its special emphasis on internationalism, multiculturalism, and service to society.” This places a clear emphasis on teaching that is supported by active scholarship, and those are the two areas that receive the most attention in all of our faculty reviews.

Why is there no review process for professors after they have been tenured?
There are actually multiple reviews for all tenured faculty at Macalester. Every faculty member prepares an annual report on his or her activities for the previous year each winter. That report is reviewed by the appropriate department chair who writes a brief evaluation of the faculty member’s work. That report is also reviewed by the Provost. In addition, if a tenured Associate Professor chooses to stand for promotion to Professor, a formal review is conducted by the Faculty Personnel Committee; the guidelines for that review are also included in Section 6 of the Employee Handbook.

What roles do the President and Provost play?
At Macalester, the Provost and the Dean of the Faculty are members of the Faculty Personnel Committee and engage in discussion and deliberation about each candidate. Decisions are reached by consensus, and the Provost and Dean of the Faculty, together with the six faculty members elected to the committee, engage in that consensus process. This review group then conveys their recommendation to the President. Details about this process can be found in the Review Processes section of the Faculty Handbook.

What role does the Board of Trustees play?
The Board of Trustees is asked to affirm the tenure recommendations made by the Faculty Personnel Committee. It would be highly unusual for the Board to take any action not recommended by FPC.

Student Input

What role does student input play in the process as it is currently outlined?
Student input is critical to the review process. The Associate Dean’s office solicits online teaching evaluations from all currently enrolled students who have worked with a given faculty member and former students who have graduated within the past five years. In addition, the faculty member being reviewed suggests the names of current and former students who have worked especially closely with the professor (on independent study projects or honors projects or within several courses). Those students are invited to provide letters about the professor’s teaching. All materials submitted by students are reviewed in detail by the Faculty Personnel Committee and weigh heavily in the evaluation of a candidate’s teaching.

Can students request to write a letter for a professor?
Since all students who have had a class with a professor undergoing review will be asked to participate in the online evaluation process, there should not be any need for students to request to write a letter for a professor. If you do not receive a solicitation for a faculty member under review with whom you had a class, you should contact the Associate Dean’s office.

Which aspects of the student responses are most valuable?
The FPC values detailed responses from students that include specific examples wherever possible. The questions on the teaching evaluation do not lend themselves to yes or no answers and will require an investment of time in order to provide meaningful and helpful answers. The FPC asks that all students who are solicited make the investment in the process to provide thoughtful responses.

Why aren’t students included on the Faculty Personnel Committee?
Only faculty who have undergone a successful tenure review participate in the process of reviewing other faculty for tenure. This is standard at colleges and universities.

Professor-related Questions

What are the requirements/qualifications for tenure?
These can be found in Section 3 of the Faculty Handbook (gdoc).

What effect do budget dynamics have on how many tenure-track professors are reviewed in a given year?
When tenure-track faculty are hired, their appointment letters indicate when the tenure review will take place. That tenure review is not influenced by the budget. Budgetary decisions need to be made at the time when the decision is made to hire the person. That is why every decision to hire a tenure-track faculty member is so important.

What is the ratio of professors who are given tenure to those who are denied?
In recent years, Macalester has tenured approximately 90% of the faculty who are reviewed for tenure.

What chance does a professor have of getting reviewed again for tenure if they are denied?
The appeals process is outlined in Section 3 of the Faculty Handbook (gdoc).

What chance is there that they will be hired for a tenure-track position at another institution?
Faculty who are denied tenure because their scholarship is considered substandard for Macalester may be encouraged to find employment at an institution that places less value on scholarly engagement.

Beyond Macalester

How does Macalester’s tenure review process compare to that of other institutions?
The distinguishing feature of Macalester’s review process is the inclusion of the Provost on the Faculty Personnel Committee and the fact that the entire committee reaches decisions by consensus. At most small liberal arts colleges, the department would make a recommendation regarding a candidate to the Tenure and Promotion Committee. That committee, made up of faculty from across the campus, would review the file and then make a recommendation to the Provost. The Provost would review and make an independent recommendation to the President, and the President would make the final decision and take it to the Board of Trustees to be ratified. In that process, both the Provost and the President have the opportunity to make decisions independent of the recommendation being made by the department and/or the Tenure and Promotion Committee. The Macalester process requires all members of the Faculty Personnel Committee, including the Provost, to reach consensus on each decision.

With further questions about the tenure process, please contact Vice Provost Paul Overvoorde at [email protected].