Home Campus Tenure process at Ohio U is challenging but may need to be reexamined

Tenure process at Ohio U is challenging but may need to be reexamined

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A protest was held in February 2017 after allegations surfaced against a tenured professor. File photo by Heather Willard.

While the role of tenure at Ohio University has often been criticized in light of sexual misconduct allegations against former professor Andrew Escobedo, the actual role of tenure to the university community is often overlooked .

Like nearly every other higher education institution in the country, Ohio University offers tenure, or greater career security and professional flexibility, to professors who have proven their abilities as both teachers and researchers.

Howard Dewald, Associate Provost for Faculty and Academic Planning, estimates that around 70-75 percent of Ohio U faculty are either tenured or on track for tenure.

But the role of tenure at Ohio U was recently called into question with the case of former English Literature professor Andrew Escobedo, who was accused of sexual misconduct this past spring.

Escobedo’s tenured position ultimately made it more difficult to enact disciplinary measures against him after a series of sexual misconduct charges.

Concerns with tenured faculty and harassment

The Escobedo case helped to shine light on a long-existing debate that tenure can translate to faculty members abusing their power and not being properly disciplined because of the job security that tenure offers.

In the Buzzfeed article that made the Escobedo case a mainstream media story, plenty of voices spoke out against tenure and the issues with the workplace in several American universities.

Yale University professor Vicki Schultz was quoted in the article as saying, “We are in the knowledge business; we’re not in the profit business. Free speech is a very important value on any college campus, so whenever a faculty member is accused of misbehavior, of course there’s an ethical responsibility to students and to our colleagues, but there’s also the value of academic freedom.”

Susanna Hempstead, one of the women who originally brought accusations against Escobedo, said, “Tenure is really what makes this situation go on and on and on.”

The Ohio U Faculty Handbook does outline disciplinary measures for all faculty, including tenured faculty, and also outlines the procedures for possible removal of tenure.

But the process to remove tenure is often equally as strenuous as the process to appoint tenure, meaning the removal of tenure can take a long time.

Benefits of tenure at Ohio U

There are other, more commonplace concerns surrounding tenured faculty besides harassment or abuse of power. Many argue that because tenured faculty are so involved in their research, they may choose to conduct research over being attentive to their students.

But McLaughlin points out that having a professor who is actively involved in research may ultimately give students a more immersive and hands-on learning experience.

“Being at a university like OU and taking a chemistry class or a physics class from a professor who is engaged in research and able to bring students into their lab band show them what is going on is a fundamentally different experience than taking that chemistry and physics class at a community college, even if they’re using the exact same textbook,” Joseph McLaughlin, chair of Ohio U Faculty Senate, said.

Additionality, while it still stands that between 70 and 75 percent of Ohio U faculty are either tenured or on track for tenure, the National Education Association has stated that less than one-third of university faculty nationally have tenure. The Association also argues that the requirements for tenure are too high, and keeps many professors from properly achieving tenure.

The NEA also says that it has been shown that most tenured faculty produce more research and work more hours than their non-tenured coworkers. Tenured faculty often work up to 52 hours a week and are usually required to serve on academic committees or produce research.

While cases like Escobedo’s often show an example of how tenure can give faculty more freedom to abuse power, the NEA points out that tenure can give faculty power to raise attention to certain issues in academia that need fixing.

“Tenure gives faculty the independence to speak out about troubling matters and to challenge the administration on issues of new curriculum and quality,” the NEA website says.

“Academic freedom is important because society needs ‘safe havens,’ places where students and scholars can challenge the conventional wisdom of ‘academic freedom.’ This is not a threat to society; it strengthens society. But how many professors would feel free to talk about controversial ideas if they knew their jobs were on the line?”

McLaughlin said that although a process as elaborate as tenure appointment is prone to some errors, most tenured track faculty at Ohio U ultimately go on to achieve tenure. But he also pointed out that one of the main issues with the tenure system may come from budgetary issues.

“Most faculty who get hired into a tenure track position end up achieving tenure. I think there’s a problem in the university with the budget, and the university has not felt like it has had the funds to fully staff itself with tenure track positions.” McLaughlin said.

He also said this may cause universities to hire faculty who are competitive for tenure into a non-tenure track position, and place an emphasis on teaching that takes away from their ability to do research and actually remain competitive for tenure.

But in light of both the possible benefits and also issues that occur with the tenure system, McLaughlin also emphasized that many people will still overlook the benefits the tenure system ultimately brings to the higher education system.

“I think people need to understand that tenure is fundamental to university’s ability to provide high quality research and creative activity, and frankly high quality teaching,” McLaughlin said.

“For much of the last hundred years, American universities have been the envy of teaching and research and the tenure system is a very important part of that story. I think people don’t understand how tenure is essential to the quality of what we’re able to do at the university.”

How tenure works at Ohio U

Tenure is not a guaranteed lifetime job at a university, but a way of promoting professors who have contributed a certain component to the university. At Ohio U, tenure is only available to Group 1 Faculty, another term for tenured track faculty.
Faculty interested in tenure must also have contributed to their individual departments and the university as a whole over the course of their careers. Professor Sherrie Gradin said that while each department typically has a different set of requirements for promoting faculty, most departments do look for similar contributions.

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