Tenure process hinges on student input

by Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

As a junior faculty member who is not “mystified” about the tenure process, I want to offer my thoughts. The faculty handbook is pretty clear about the process. Each year for the first five years a new faculty person does a self evaluation, based on set, standardized criteria. The department chair and the division chair also do an evaluation. Students offer input via student evaluation forms and their evaluation is available to the department chair, division chair, the dean and the faculty elected Faculty Personnel Committee. At the third year and the fifth year, the evaluations are more heavily scrutinized with regard to tenure.

I personally want to thank students who have provided thoughtful and constructive feedback on course content and structure. Each semester, every course becomes a little more tightly defined as a result of helpful suggestions generated through evaluations. Students who take this process seriously can make substantial contributions to teaching effectiveness and faculty retention and tenure.

It is important to note that the seriousness of student input is hampered by those students who use evaluation time as a way to say things like the professor should “shave her legs more often,” “pluck her eyebrows more carefully” and “why was X hired in the first place”.

I also want to thank Jane Kvetko, my department head for six years. Jane acted as a mentor to me. She provided me with the opportunities to try new things in class and was a safety net when trying new things flopped. She helped me develop a stride that best serves students and at the same time honors who I am and who I am becoming.

Jane’s written evaluations were always balanced and her suggestions for improvement were taken to heart. I knew that she meant business when she said this or that was mandatory for tenure. She supported her statements with the faculty handbook.

I also have appreciated the role of the division head. Fred Jones has come to me with student concerns about my classroom performance. While protecting the student’s identity, Fred has challenged me to explore my own behavior in order to create a freer learning environment. It has not always felt good, but it has always felt necessary. I am grateful for both his positive and negative feedback. I count him among my best critics and greatest supporters.

FPC is selected by the faculty and is expected to make decisions that are in the best interest of the school concerning faculty personnel issues. It is a hard job and requires lots of time and attention to detail. The committee must consider all of the information put before them and, at tenure time, that also included prior evaluations. As a matter of professionalism, they can’t release any information about their deliberations. I am grateful for faculty members willing to serve on this committee and I hope I never do.

Lora Friedrich

Professor of Sociology