Tenure-bound faculty may defer review process to fall

By HANNAH BENSEN

COURTESY OF NICOLAS POPPE
Professor of Luso-Hispanic Studies Nicolas Poppe at home with his three young kids. Left to right: Lucas (4), Isaac (4) and Seba (6). Professor Poppe is currently undergoing tenure review, along with nine other faculty.

The Covid-19 pandemic has added additional stress for the 10 faculty members undergoing tenure review this spring and the 80–90 junior faculty members on tenure-track positions. 

Candidates currently undergoing tenure review can either choose to continue their review as planned during the spring or opt to halt their review and resume in the fall, according to Provost and Executive Vice President Jeff Cason. The college will also be offering junior faculty the opportunity to delay their tenure clocks by a year, regardless of where they are in the process.

“For the 10 of us under review, the anxiety of a difficult, fraught period has been exacerbated,” Professor of Luso-Hispanic Studies Nicolas Poppe wrote in an email to The Campus. While Poppe has chosen to continue the review process, he noted that stress related to Covid-19 compounded existing tenure review anxieties. 

For the 10 of us under review, the anxiety of a difficult, fraught period has been exacerbated.”

— Nicholas Poppe, Professor of Luso-Hispanic Studies

Achieving tenure is the culmination of a seven-year process.  Tenure-track professors undergo their first review by the Reappointments Committee in their third year at the college. Granted its successful completion, faculty members then undergo tenure review in the spring semester of their seventh year. During this review, the Promotions Committee evaluates candidates’ teaching abilities through several classroom visits that occur throughout the semester, as well as faculty members’ records of scholarship and service to their academic department.  

For Poppe, the classroom visits by members of the Promotions Committee had just begun when it was announced on March 10 that on-campus classes would be suspended and moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Of the four visits they were able to complete before March 13 [the last day of in-person classes], only one was done in what I would consider to be normal circumstances,” Poppe wrote. He said the three other visits happened on the Wednesday and Friday of the final week of in-person classes.

“I trust that the Promotions Committee members understand this, but they were abnormal classes conducted at an extraordinary time. Other colleagues had even fewer visits done before we moved online,” he added.

Poppe, like the other faculty who chose to continue with their tenure review, will find out in May whether he has been granted tenure. The decision is based upon the recommendation of the Promotions Committee to President Laurie Patton and with the approval of the Board of Trustees. Upon achieving tenure, the candidate, previously an assistant professor, receives the rank of associate professor with tenure. Tenured faculty members receive, formally, a significant pay increase and, informally, increased academic freedom. 

While Poppe expects that the reviews completed this semester will have the same outcome as those from a semester without the uncertainties related to Covid-19, he also noted that this semester’s unordinary events will “impact junior colleagues for years to come,” since they will have one fewer “normal” semester during which they may build up their portfolios and prep for review.

Other colleges and universities have also announced alterations to their normal tenure and reappointment policies to ease the pressure of the semester. Amherst College is offering an opt-in policy that allows candidates undergoing tenure review in the fall to extend their tenure clock by one year; candidates scheduled to stand for tenure in a future year may also extend their tenure clocks. Syracuse University, Ohio State University and Creighton University have announced similar policies.

Recognizing that extending the tenure clock by a year means another year with an assistant professor salary, the University of Massachusetts Amherst took the policy one step further, allowing faculty to delay the tenure clock and implementing a policy that will retroactively pay faculty who achieve tenure the promotion increment in salary for that missed year.