Tenure Changing Attitudes Toward and Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

In taking the approach that improvement in these areas can be achieved by establishing some form of post-tenure review, institutions are sending the signal that the blame for school-wide failures falls upon the teachers. A failure on the part of the institution to take this responsibility and the eroding of its confidence in its teachers promotes a deeply unhealthy context for academic freedom or creativity.

This is to say that such a policy is demonstrated by the present research to invoke a negative atmosphere for teachers and does not appear to be justified by any real or empirical evidence. Allen continues on to indicate that "nothing in the data on faculty workload and performance, gathered across all types of postsecondary institutions, suggests that faculty with tenure neglect reaching their students, rest on their laurels and no longer produce relevant research or scholarship, promote dangerous ideologies in the classroom or anywhere else, or act as stumbling blocks in decision-making." (Allen 2000; p. 95) Indeed, as we have proceed with the research process and literature review, it is unclear that any evidence has been provided to support the connection made in this policy between the presence of tenure and the need for institutional improvement. If a lack of accountability is emergent and appears connected to the issue of tenure, most universities appear to have taken on the policy based on perception and popular sway rather than based on the provocation based on empirical observation of professor performance.

Indeed, Allen is also troubled by the lack of thorough research before the rush to pass judgment on the concept of tenure. Where an array of institutional failures may be related to any number of social, economic, political or practical obstructions, the implementation of the post-tenure review tends to decontextualize teacher performance at the expense of the teacher. Allen expresses concern over this imbalance, indicating that "those who chide tenured faculty for failing to teach undergraduates effective neglect to inform us how this situation has come about. What specific organizational stimuli or conditions diluted the instructional performance of tenured faculty members? Which behavioral mechanisms and social processes where involved, under what conditions?" (Allen 2000; p. 99) the result is a disservice to both the instructors who have worked so hard to obtain their security and to the students who will continue to suffer a set of negative institutional conditions which have gone unacknowledged.

It is the former of these two points which perhaps most emphatically recommends the work by Allen as a definitive point of rejection for post-tenure review models. Indeed, Allen makes the compelling argument that tenure is by its original nature only awarded to those who have earned it by time, experience, positive review and an evasion of any negative review. This means that no small amount of personal sacrifice and professional dedication will have been entered into the acquisition of tenure, particularly if we are to invest so much confidence in the institution as to suggest that its capacity for review may be trusted. Where that is the case, it should be presumed that tenure is a status retaining of its positive professional implications. Therefore, to compromise the achievement of this status is categorically underhanded and contrary to the promise implied by the acquisition of tenure. For those teachers who have, by virtue of their lack of tenure in the early years of a developing career, falling by the axe of frequent lay-offs, the obstruction of this promise can be seen as particularly unfair. As Allen states it, "the academic career has always been fragile and risky for most of the professoriate. Faculty over the course of many years, invest disproportionate economic, psychological, and other resources to obtain their positions. They do so with little prospect of ever attaining the wealth that flows to professionals in more lucrative fields such as law or medicine -- regardless of their effort, merit, or productivity. Tenure is a small reward for many years against enormous practical odds to acquire a particular area of expertise." (Allen 2000; p. 96)

It is with this understanding that professors and educators as a whole are so emotionally driven to obstruct efforts and instituting post-tenure review. Specifically, in those contexts where such review is inherently reinforced by certain penalty systems, educator communities have voiced strenuous resistance to such change. This is demonstrated by the heated debate in any number of large university settings, where efforts at imposing post-tenure review tend to reveal unanimous professorial rejection. Indeed, Jaschick (2009) tells that "the University of Maryland at College Park found that out this month when the faculty considered a proposal that would have required annual reviews of tenured faculty performance, and would have allowed sanctions, including pay cuts for some professors who receive three consecutive years of negative reviews. The faculty overwhelmingly rejected the plan, seeing it as unnecessary, unfair and a diminishment of tenure." (Jaschik 2009; p. 1)

This underscores a view overwhelmingly held by professors and teachers. However, the view is challenged by a sense on the part of administrators that there is a need for some level of serious action in terms of improving the accountability and quality of instructors. Even more so, there is an indication in the available research that while failures may be institutionally or even socially constructed, the first line of contact for students is with the instructor. Therefore, to many students, the perceptions of institutional shortcoming or the diminished quality of curriculum and instruction will tend to be channeled to the instructor, even where blame may be more justifiably widespread. Still, in higher education, the paying status of the student does reflect some degree of power. This has been evidenced by the above-noted case at the University of Maryland, where "the leading public advocates for the plan were not administrators, but students. The leaders of both the undergraduate and graduate student governments both came out strongly for the plan, saying that students are more likely to have problems with tenured than non-tenured professors." (Jaschik 2009; p. 1)

This underscores what is a realistic concern of course, with the implications of an underqualified or unqualified professor to a student's education representing a real concern for most universities. And indeed, there is a need for individualized behavior on the part of professors to be monitored and controlled. For most university students, there is a perception that their future is at stake in this educational context and it would be unfair and unethical to allow poor professor accountability to compromise this opportunity. This is explicated in some university policies, which as an explicit statement in party to the establishment of post-tenure, may make note that "there are individual professors known to the campus community to be ineffective or otherwise non-meritorious in their teaching performance, and campus politics often prevent affirmative action for their remediation or separation." (CSSA 1996; p. 1) However, this is a decidedly negative point of entrance into the discussion on improving educational outcomes. Moreover, there is nothing in the above set of concessions which justifies affiliating the concept of tenure and a threat thereto with the prospect of improved educational performance.

Indeed, though the challenges imposed upon school districts based on the ineffectiveness of some instructors has had a negative impact on the perception of tenure in the public and political spheres, the approach taken by many advocates of post-tenure review is itself to be seen as greatly problematic. However, the research here conducted leads not just to critical regard for the post-tenure review model but also provides a number of guide-points for achieving reformation in this area of administration. Most positive recommendations in this are concern the provision of some form of continuing educational and professional development training as the chief objective of the post-tenure review process. To this end, a useful template is provided by any number of universities already engaged in efforts to improve the current approach taken. A positive example is found at San Jose State University, where post-tenure review is specifically acknowledged as a process centered on professional development rather than on evaluation and penalty. Accordingly, its official policy on the subject "is to provide a process whereby faculty performance is reviewed for the purpose of acknowledging, maintaining and improving a tenured faculty unit employee's performance. At San Jose

State University the emphasis in post tenure review will be on providing opportunities to take a proactive approach that will lead to an enhancement of professional practice, with a focus on faculty career paths and the professorial 'life cycle.'" (McNeil 1997; p. 1)

This is a focus which removes many of the stigmatizing implications of a negative review and the pressures of performing simply according to that which is monitored as a function of the review process. This not only changes the practical mode of the review but it also alters the psychological impact and general connotation thereby constructed. Under the…

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