University behind in tenured staff

Reporter and Reporter

The University has fallen behind several other colleges across the state, judging by the number of tenured professors on staff.

Tenured professors are crucial for any university because they’re supposed to be experts in their fields, said Joseph Frizado, vice provost for the University.

Tenure is the ultimate job security for an instructor, since tenured professors can’t be fired except in extreme circumstances, Frizado said.

Of the 827 faculty members at the University, 527 are tenured or on tenure track, meaning they’ve started the process of becoming tenured, according to an email from Frizado.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, this number is fewer than other universities in the state, including Kent State, the University of Toledo, Miami University and Ohio University.

The student population can play a role in how many tenured professors a university has, and the process of becoming tenured is extremely difficult, Frizado said.

An instructor needs to be on tenure track for six years, and goes through yearly reviews of their performance by the department they work under, he said.

“A teacher uses that time to build a record to merit tenure,” Frizado said. “After those six years, a decision is made.”

An instructor needs to receive good student reviews, publish articles on subjects in their respective fields and maintain a good reputation outside the University to get tenure.

If an instructor hasn’t convinced their department or the dean that they deserve tenure by the end of these six years, they’re let go from the University, Frizado said.

But if the department and the dean approve, the decision is brought to the provost office where a portfolio of the candidate is sent out to neighboring universities for opinions.

“They’ll need to have done enough work that people outside the University can validate the [instructor],” Frizado said. “They need to be good in their field.”

After passing these trials, the final decision rests with the Board of Trustees who are able to give an instructor tenure.

“Granting an [instructor] tenure is a 20 or 30 year commitment for the University,” Frizado said. “We don’t make the decision lightly.”

Some students falsely refer to all of their teachers as professors, which is technically inaccurate since only tenured teachers have the professor title, Frizado said.

Given how many years it takes for an instructor to be granted tenure, replacing a retiring tenured professor can be a drawn-out, expensive process, he said.

Some professors believe this is one of the reasons the University is falling behind other colleges in terms of tenured professors on staff.

It’s cheaper to hire a non-tenure track instructor to a short-term contract instead of committing to decades of pay and benefits, said Lee Meserve, a tenured University professor.

Meserve, a faculty member since 1973 and tenured since 1981, is noticing a trend the University is taking in regards to tenure and new students.

“Tenured faculty are expensive,” Meserve said. “Tenure was originally intended to create freedom in the classroom by protecting the professor, but some believe tenure has outlived its usefulness.”

The University is looking to decrease the number of students per entry level classes, meaning they’d have to hire more part-time instructors to teach those classes, Meserve said.

While the student population can effect tenured faculty population, there may be another motivation for why the University isn’t hiring more tenure track instructors.

“There are people who once they receive tenure go into hibernation mode and do the bare minimum,” Meserve said. “But if you get to this level chances are you bring something good to the table.”

In addition to the variable risk involved with bringing on new instructors, some professors believe the University is fundamentally changing.

“The University is becoming more like a business,” said Jeffrey Gordon, a tenured University professor. “That’s not traditionally what a university should focus on, but I’ve heard some refer to the students as ‘revenue units’.”

Ohio is changing the way it’s funding public universities, which could be why the University is turning towards more short-term contracts and less tenure track instructors, Gordon said.

Despite the long-term commitment and risk involved with taking on a tenure track instructor, some professors still see light in the tenure system.

“Tenure is absolutely critical,” Gordon said. “It gives you academic freedom and helps us enlarge the students perspectives.”

Despite some outward signs of regression, the University is currently trying to hire 26 tenure track instructors, Frizado said.

“Faculty are human,” he said. “We won’t give up on somebody if we hire them on tenure track.”