Professor denied tenure


by Amy Zoss

Professional growth and professionalism has collided with classroom popularity in the wake of Simpson College’s recent decision to deny tenure to Dan Bauer, assistant professor of English.

Bauer decided to openly discuss his rejection by the college, a decision he said was based on his desire to let students “know the truth.”

“They [those involved in the decision-making process] think I’m going to die of shame – that I’m going to be too ashamed to talk,” said Bauer. “They’re the ones who should be ashamed to talk.”

This is only the third denial of tenure in the past 10 years, according to Becky Beaman, assistant to Academic Dean Bruce Haddox. The action has generated a flurry of petitions and letters from faculty and students questioning the decision.

Key to the decision appears to be an apparent change of heart on Bauer’s tenure by Nancy St. Clair, associate professor of English and chair of the department. Citing concerns about lack of professional development and professionalism, St. Clair recommended denial of tenure just eight months after submitting a positive third-year evaluation on Bauer.

“Dan is a hard-working, deeply committed teacher,” St. Clair said in Bauer’s third-year review submitted to the Faculty Personnel Committee and released by Bauer. “In the two years he has been here the strong teaching skills he brought with him have become stronger yet. He cares deeply about Simpson and is committed to educating the whole student and partakes in all aspects of student life in order to do so. I see no reason why his progress toward tenure shouldn’t continue on course.”

Simpson’s personnel policies state that a positive third-year review serves as an intention to grant tenure to the faculty member under review.

However, the FPC voted unanimously on Oct. 16 to recommend that Bauer not be tenured, a decision based on Bauer’s self evaluation and recommendations from St. Clair and Owen Duncan, professor of history and chair of the division of humanities.

Haddox has instructed St. Clair and the members of the FPC to provide no details about the Bauer decision.

After first declining comment on this story, St. Clair said, “I’m just not going to engage in this. Dan can do whatever he wants to do, and if it makes him feel better that’s fine. If you need to cast me as a villain, that’s fine. I can live with that.”

Most Simpson faculty are on what is known in academic circles as the tenure track, meaning they can qualify for virtually permanent employment with the college after a probationary period of four to six years. Non-tenured faculty are reviewed annually until their department chairs make a recommendation on tenure to the college’s FPC and the administration.

Most tenure-track Simpson faculty members ultimately are granted tenure. Tenure decisions are based on the faculty member’s performance in teaching, service and professional development.

‘Shifting Opinion’

“It is all on [St. Clair’s] shifting opinion,” said Bauer. He said the atmosphere in the English department had been, at times, “toxic.”

Many students said Bauer is an effective teacher, and Bauer’s student evaluations show high marks for his classroom teaching. His denial of tenure has left some students troubled and confused.

“We’re about to lose one of the most hard-working, dedicated individuals on this campus,” said Kim Lamon, a junior who is taking a class with Bauer this term and lives in the Progressive Action Coalition theme house where Bauer is an advisor.

Students aren’t alone in their confusion.

Melvin Wilk, professor of English, said he first heard late last summer that St. Clair might recommend that Bauer be denied tenure.

“It isn’t clear to me what happened between the October [2001] evaluation that was so positive,” said Wilk, “and the summer of that academic year [2002] that resulted in [St. Clair’s] decision to deny tenure.”

Wilk said Simpson was “definitely” losing a good professor.

Four Issues

A letter from Haddox, sent to Bauer and the members of the FPC, cited four “substantive issues” as the basis for denial of tenure.

The letter alleged that Bauer had:

* Not worked hard enough at professional devel opment.

* “Completely failed to take initiative in the Poets and Writers Series.”

* Not “initiated significant discussion about writing across the curriculum, not [sic] had he developed any significant ideas for how to develop the writing program.

* “Talked to students about how other faculty members were grading their senior essays…[FPC] regarded this as unprofessional behavior and very problematic for students.”

In an interview last week about the tenure process, Haddox said that while teaching is the primary consideration in tenure reviews, it isn’t the only consideration.

“I guarantee you, especially if it is negative, that none of these decisions are made without a lot of reflection and thought,” said Haddox. “And sometimes agony.”

Possibly the most contentious issue surrounding the denial of Bauer’s tenure is the question of whether a conflict between Bauer and St. Clair played a role in the turnabout from October to the denial of tenure.

According to Bauer, the “unprofessional behavior” outlined in Haddox’s letter refers to a discussion Bauer had with a student at the end of the spring 2002 semester. Bauer contends that there had been a history of students having difficulty getting in touch with St. Clair to ask questions and work on papers, which in turn led to senior projects that weren’t always on par with students’ writing abilities. Bauer said this had been an area of concern to him since his first year of work with the senior projects.

Bauer said one of his own advisees turned in a paper for the senior project last spring and was unhappy with the grade.

“I had to talked to the advisee and the advisee was going to protest the grade,” said Bauer. “I said, ‘You shouldn’t do this. This is as good as you’re going to get.'”

According to Bauer, the student felt that both St. Clair and Lieber opposed her. Bauer told the student that her perception was wrong.

“And that’s were I messed up,” said Bauer. “I said, ‘You know, Todd didn’t actually think your paper was that bad.’ And that’s what I guess was top secret.” According to Bauer, St. Clair wanted to fail the student.

Professional Development

In a written statement sent to the FPC and released by Bauer, he denied that he had not worked at professional development. The faculty handbook cites professional activities such as “scholarly research, publications, attendance at professional meetings, exhibits, etc.” as evidence of professional development.

As evidence of his interest in professional development, Bauer cited:

* The upcoming publication of his work in College Composition and Communication, a top journal from his field.

* His presentation of research at a regional conference with Sal Meyers, associate professor of psychology.

* His attendance at a conference on rhetoric and composition as evidence of his interest in professional development.

The letter from Haddox states that, while Bauer “had produced a publishable essay, this was not in the specialty he was hired for…”

“I don’t think it was as much a problem with execution,” said Lieber. “I think he did the nuts and bolts of the job all right – at least it seems that way to me. I think there were concerns about his ability to really provide continued leadership to that program into the future.”

Lieber said that he likes Bauer and would have been equally satisfied if tenure had been granted.

Wilk questioned whether Bauer mishandled the Poets and Writers Series. While a deal designed to bring a particular writer to campus did fall through, the writer eventually came to campus anyway.

“The handling of the Poets and Writers Series seems to have been distorted,” said Wilk “because in fact he handled it successfully for two years.”

Bauer admits to missing a June 30, 2002 deadline to finalize plans for the poets and writers the program would bring to campus.

“I was supposed to have…all of the poets and writers lined up by June 30,” said Bauer. “and I did not have them lined up.” Bauer went to Europe and, he said, was going to finish the task when he returned in early July. According to Bauer, St. Clair removed him from Poets and Writers when he returned.

“Did I mess up? Absolutely.” said Bauer. “So, you know, there’s a really good reason why I’m being denied tenure, I guess. If that’s the case, then any professor who misses a deadline should not be getting tenure. That’s not exercised evenly.”

Writing and Teaching

Some faculty at Simpson said they see visible evidence of Bauer’s interest in writing across the curriculum, a practice that encourages students in all disciplines to continually improve their writing skills, and in teaching.

Bauer was involved with and attended many of the teaching sessions, according to Meyers.

“Writing across the curriculum is a passion of mine, and Bauer’s as well,” said Meyers. “He had a lot of good ideas about good assignments to help students practice writing and improve their writing.”

Some of these concerns were addressed in Bauer’s third-year review.

“It’s open to interpretation,” said Wilk. “I think that his professional development and his work as a writing specialist all were showing substantial improvement – it remains puzzling to me.”

One of the other areas of weakness cited for denying Bauer tenure is a lack of progress in his work with the Writing Competency II program, a requirement for all graduating seniors.

In Bauer’s written statement he said, “I was not given the opportunity to work with the Writing Competency II program until late in my third year at Simpson.”

While he noted that he removed himself from discussion of the details of Bauer’s work with the Writing Competency II program, Todd Little, director at the Hawley Academic Resource Center, said that Bauer had put together a group of statistics from historical data associated with the Writing Competency II program. Little added that Bauer has also worked with the undergraduate writing assistants.

In an interview last week, Bauer said, “When things were good in the English department last March, Nancy got a look at that report and said, ‘this is very good.'”

According to Bauer, St. Clair encouraged him to turn it into an article, which Bauer said he was going to do. He points to this as another overlooked piece of professional development.

Accepting the Decision

All of the faculty members interviewed were careful to point out that they ultimately accept the decision of the FPC and respect the work of the committee. Some of the faculty pointed out that they could only offer perspective since they had not been involved with the decision making process.

“In general, I think that the denial and the reasons for it as presented to the committee were carefully thought through and documented,” said Wilk, adding that he and others in the English department have decided to “accept the decision and work amiably together.”

Bauer said that he now intends to look for a new job.

“In some ways, this is really a wonderful thing. It’s redirected me back toward students,” said Bauer. “Students are why I do what I do.”

Decisions by college officials to deny tenure usually are surrounded with controversy, according to Haddox. In this case, there has been “a lot of heat and not much light” shed on the situation, he said.

Haddox said there was unanimous agreement down the line on all faculty decisions made this year.

“These are honorable people trying to make the right decision,” he said. “And I believe we have.”