Thoughts from the Embers: Tenure too tenuous?

Lately, there has been a lot of talk around campus regarding professor tenure. In last week’s edition, TKS ran a story discussing the tenure process and why Computer Science professor Don Blaheta did not receive it at the end of last year. Professor Blaheta is an adored professor, leader of the Knox Ballroom Club and respected member of governing committees on campus. So that leaves the question: why wasn’t Blaheta given tenure?

Well, many current and former Knox students have their own ideas. Some think his politics might not mesh with those in his reviewing committee. Some suggest that his involvement in campus life rubbed other professors the wrong way, even though students appreciated this. Others offer countless other explanations that are not known for sure. At the end of his article, Blaheta suggested a reason himself: he hasn’t had as many academic publications as other professors.

Academic publications, said the Dean, were important in improving teaching styles and advancing a professor’s career. Knox gives professors funding for their research and publications and places emphasis on this part of a professor’s job. Sure, we want professors who are engaged in student life and teach much-adored classes, but professors must also keep up with the rest of their contract.

This whole fiasco has brought up tenure as an issue on campus. Without tenure, Blaheta won’t be able to stay at Knox after this year. Why can’t a beloved professor stay, even if his committee says his job can’t be completely secured yet? Is there any in-between?

There have been several professors over the years who have contributed significantly to campus only to be let go because their contracts were not renewed. Some were not tenured, others were not asked to return for a variety of reasons, some of which may have been a lack of money to fund their teaching. On the flip side, professors who students may feel no longer fit campus or offer them the best education have tenure; therefore, they won’t be asked to leave regardless of their performance. Why is this allowed to happen? Isn’t it best to hang on to professors who are doing well and teaching students to the highest capacity than offering tenure to professors who no longer have to teach up to standards?

I can’t think of another job where employees are offered nearly complete job security after 10 years, regardless of their performance on duty. It seems ridiculous to have that system at a college where things are constantly changing. This is the way most colleges do it, but should they?

Another concern for students in the professor evaluation process is that the evaluation committee does not take student comments into consideration when deciding who should receive tenure. We fill out the evaluations after every term, but they only use the statistical information and disregard what we have to say. A tenured professor doesn’t even need these evaluations. So, if there is a professor we students think is doing a particularly crummy job, how are we supposed to let the administration know? Perhaps we could tell the Deans, but if that professor has tenure, nothing can be done.

We students spend every day with our professors and we know who is teaching us and who is wasting our time. We are the ones paying for the education, so why can’t we also be the ones who decide who gives us that education? It seems silly that we have to put up with lousy teachers just because the school decided they wouldn’t be firing them for the rest of their career. Where is the incentive for our professors to be good after they have received tenure?

It seems, however, that keeping the competition fresh and allowing student input on Knox faculty decisions would make the school the best institution it could be.

TKS Staff

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