Board grants tenure to 49 faculty members despite lack of definition
Published: Thursday, June 7, 2012
Updated: Thursday, June 7, 2012 19:06
Forty-nine faculty members were awarded tenure May 23 by the Alamo Colleges board of trustees in a unanimous vote after District 9 trustee James Rindfuss expressed concerns that the board has no official tenure policy.
The policy was overlooked in 2002 when district updated other policies. Since then, tenure has been treated as a procedure and varies among the district’s five colleges.
“I don’t know how we define what tenure means if we have no tenure policy,” Rindfuss said. “You’re voting on something that you don’t have any definition for.”
District 2 trustee Denver McClendon said he thought the board decided in May 2011 to grandfather faculty who were going through the tenure process and new faculty would not be eligible for tenure until the board defined the process.
In the intervening year, no definition has been forthcoming.
“In defense of these people who are involved in this process already, it would not be fair to them to pull the rug out from under them,” McClendon said.
Faculty hired beginning in fall 2011 are not on a tenure-track, Dr. Jessica Howard, vice president of academic affairs, said today.
She said it’s unclear if these faculty will be eligible for tenure if the board adopts a tenure policy.
“We don’t know where they fit into the ongoing review and decision,” Howard said.
At the Sept. 13 Policy and Long Range Planning Committee, McClendon said, "This committee needs to charge the chancellor to come back with an evaluation system and alteration of the disciplinary procedures to make that procedure equitable across the board."
Since the board discovered there is no official tenure policy, faculty have voiced concerns that the elimination of tenure would limit academic freedom in the classroom and weaken the faculty.
During a Faculty Senate panel discussion Sept. 20, psychology Chair Thomas Billimek said tenure and academic freedom give professors the ability to produce students who think critically rather than simply learn skills to use in the workforce.
At the panel, Dr. Brian Stout, biology professor at Northwest Vista College, said tenure allows him to discuss issues such as the debate between evolution and intelligent design.
"It allows us the peace of mind to know we can talk about our subject without fear of repercussions," Stout said.
He said tenure attracts good faculty members, places higher expectations on faculty and allows the college to evaluate faculty members who may not be doing their job correctly.
Also on the panel, philosophy Professor John Visintainer likened the possibility of abolishing tenure to changing how he grades students’ midsemester.
He compared tenure to the lifelong terms U.S. Supreme Court justices serve: Just as those terms allow justices to decipher the law without interference from the political process, tenure protects academics from backlash for discussing controversial subjects.
Since the board would not take action on tenure until the administration makes changes to faculty evaluations, a faculty evaluation team is working to create an updated job description.
Dr. Dawn Elmore-McCrary, English professor and chair of the district Super Senate, serves on the team with mortuary science Professor Mary Mena; Darrell Stafford, English professor at Northwest Vista College; Jessica Cooper, early childhood professor at St. Philip's College; Frank Maldonado, math chair at Northeast Lakeview College; Dr. Jimmie Bruce, vice president of academic affairs at Northwest Vista; Dr. Jo-Carol Fabianke, interim vice chancellor for academic success; Dr. Federico Zaragoza, vice chancellor of economic and workforce development; Dr. Ana "Cha" Guzman, president of Palo Alto College; and Chancellor Bruce Leslie.
In an interview Feb. 7 Leslie said the board is not in a rush and no time frame is set to make a decision on the faculty evaluation system or tenure.
Current district policy requires an evaluation of tenured faculty every other year and of tenure-track faculty annually.
Tenure-track faculty must be observed in the classroom by the department chair or designee during the fall semester and by a member of a peer review committee during the spring semester.
Tenure-track faculty must complete a self-evaluation and be evaluated by the department chair and a peer review committee each spring.
Tenured faculty must be observed in the classroom during the fall semester if the department chair or faculty member requests an observation or if the faculty member is being considered for promotion.
After the sixth year of employment, tenured faculty must submit a self-evaluation every other year unless the department chair or faculty member requests it more often.
A peer review is required in the spring semester if the faculty member is submitting a fall application for promotion.