by Emma Welsh-Huggins
Kenyon students interact with professors everyday. Professors learn each student’s strengths and weaknesses and understand their goals. But oftentimes, students are so caught up in the flurry of their own academics that they forget professors have worked just as hard to get here. Of all the challenges facing a budding academic, none may be greater that the quest for tenure.
Tenure is the holding of the position of full professor at Kenyon. Also known as Appointment without Limit, tenure is the most coveted title as a professor.
The process of receiving tenure varies little across institutions, particularly in the case of small liberal arts colleges like Kenyon. When a professor is hired in a tenure-track position, he or she “… would be on a tenure clock that would have a tenure decision in the sixth year; they will have had a pre-tenure review in the third year,” Interim Provost Joe Klesner said.
The Tenure and Promotion Committee controls this process. Associate Professor of Anthropology Bruce Hardy is the current chair of the committee. He declined to be interviewed for this article because the Committee is currently reviewing faculty members for tenure. This year, Kenyon has seven candidates who are going through the process of appointment to tenure. Overall, Kenyon has 167 tenure-track teaching positions available, with the majority of them already filled.
Although the process of attaining tenure is generally standardized, there are minute differences between institutions. The professor’s individual responsibilities are defined more clearly at Kenyon versus other institutions.
“[After] talking with people at other similar colleges, I do get the impression that our tenure requirements are more clear than would be the norm,” Associate Professor of Economics Jay Corrigan said.
For example, Denison University’s faculty handbook refers to the general importance of “Teaching, Scholarship (research) and Contributions to the Other Purposes of the College.” But it is seemingly left up to the tenure candidates and professors to determine the exact distribution of these responsibilities.
At Kenyon, these responsibilities are defined exactly by percentages. 55 percent is devoted to teaching, 35 percent to scholarship and artistic engagement (research and staying current in one’s field) and 15 percent to college citizenship, or service to the Kenyon community. As a professor at Kenyon, these requirements are part of one’s employment contract. As a tenure-track professor, or one undergoing pre-tenure or promotion review, they are especially important.
Still, the tenure process among liberal arts colleges is similar in many ways. They all require gathering a dossier, a compilation of various documents and letters for the purpose of representing the candidate’s abilities as a professor and member of the college community.
Some of these letters come from previous students, some from colleagues and still more from peers at outside institutions.
Professor of English Ted Mason has been working at Kenyon since 1989, and said “the benefits [of tenure] have been really powerful, in the sense [that] they allow you to think about the work you do without fear that things you might want to try won’t work and then come back to bite you.”
Tenure allows for what Klesner described as “appointment without limit.” Oberlin College’s faculty handbook speaks of the expectations of achieving tenure: “A positive decision about tenure should be based on the evidence that scholarly or artistic work is likely to continue at a high level in future.”
One criticism that tenure faces is that it allows professors to become lazy or put less work into their teaching and their field of study once their jobs are guaranteed. But Mason disagreed with this stereotype.
“Teachers at post-secondary institutions understand that [tenure is a] privilege,” he said, “and that that privilege has a responsibility that they attempt to fulfill to the best of their abilities.”
Still, there can be situations in which a tenured professor’s contract can end. According to the Kenyon faculty handbook, these include “failure to perform professional duties, gross personal misconduct and conviction of a felony.” Additionally, in the event of a financial emergency at Kenyon, tenured professors’ contracts can also be terminated under the rule of financial exigency.
While tenure is often a vague and hazy term to many students, its significance to academia is unparralelled — endeavoring to preserve academic freedom in Kenyon’s halls.