April 13, 2011

Reviewing Knox tenure

Gaining a tenure-track position is often an important aspect of the academic world, bringing stability and recognition of a professor’s work as a researcher and educator. But at Knox, tenure can sometimes be a touchy matter.

“There’s an issue of investment,” said Professor of Physics Charles Schulz, ’72, a Knox faculty member since 1981. “Non-tenure-track faculty aren’t doing committee-work and don’t have advisees. So in that regard, they’re not as vested in the college as tenure-track faculty.”

Schulz said, “All of the things that come with the faculty fully participating and advising students, making departmental decisions and contributions, participating in faculty governance and faculty meetings, I think those are sort of all important.”

Knox bylaws stipulate that visiting professors and other non-tenured faculty are to be reviewed by their department chair. Evaluations for faculty promotions are based on a professor’s “teaching effectiveness, scholarship or other creative work, institutional service and institutional need.” Tenure is then awarded to faculty members who have either spent seven years or longer at the instructor level or were voted as such by the Board of Trustees.

Todd Heidt, a visiting Assistant Professor in Modern Languages since 2009, believes that one of the toughest sides to the issue for non-tenure-track faculty is facing an uncertain future.

“Gaining tenure is important for a number of reasons … it means having job security, so that [you] can start to settle into a career at Knox and a life in Galesburg.”

Still, the threat of not being awarded a tenure-track position someday means that Heidt must keep his eyes open for other job openings in addition to his responsibilities as a professor .

“Over the course of the year, it means that I’m not spending time necessarily on teaching or research, which should really be my primary subjects,” Heidt said.

Tenure-track designation has led to controversy at Knox in the past, particularly when it comes to the role that students play in the process. In fall 2009, Assistant Professor of Computer Science Don Blaheta was denied tenure despite an outcry from former students and others on campus in his support. Yet, despite the efforts, the decision remained in place.

Dean of the College Larry Breitborde was not available for immediate comment for this story, but told The Knox Student on Feb. 9 that the “evaluative process is broader than the student perspective in the classroom.”

Ultimately, both sides tend to agree that a faculty primarily comprised of tenure-track positions is what is best for the college.

“It makes for a better educational program for our students,” Schulz said. “Which, ultimately, is what it’s all about.”

Matt McKinney
Matt McKinney is a senior majoring in creative writing and minoring in journalism. His experience with journalism ranges from a year as co-sports editor for TKS to an internship with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he used his Spanish language skills to report a front-page story on changes to federal immigration policy. He has also written for The Galesburg Register-Mail and Knox’s Office of Communications. Matt is the recipient of the 2012 Knox College Kimble Prize for Feature Journalism and two awards from the Illinois College Press Association, including a first place award for sports game coverage. He is currently interning virtually with The Tampa Bay Times and will pursue his master's next year at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.


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