Tenure applications reach record high

Professer Michael Brown sued Emerson College after being rejected for tenure.
BROOKE NORTHRUP / BEACON CORRESPONDENT

Twelve candidates are currently being reviewed for tenure or promotion at Emerson, a record high for a committee that usually oversees fewer than 10 cases a year. In the next few years, there will be more than 20 annual applicants.

Mark Leccese, an associate journalism professor and the chair of the faculty status committee, said there have been fewer than 10 faculty promotions in each of the past five years.

When President M. Lee Pelton was appointed in 2011, he pledged to hire more faculty and provide more opportunities to join the tenure track plan.

Leccese said he admires Pelton’s accomplishments. “What we’re seeing is the faculty that President Pelton pledged to hire and did hire,” Leccese said.

Leccese said that there are three sections of faculty at Emerson: affiliated faculty who teach by the course; term faculty on contracts; and tenure track faculty, assistant professors who spend six years before applying for tenure.

If the faculty member is hired for tenure, their title changes from assistant professor to associate professor.

While tenure track faculty finish their time as assistant professors, other already-tenured professors also apply for promotion, which includes contract reviews and a title change from associate professor to full professor.

Upon applying for tenure or promotion, the candidate goes through a complex and rigorous review process.

“Your career is on the line,” Emmanuel Paraschos, an associate journalism professor, said. “If people don’t like you [and] want to find things wrong with you, then they can.”

Paraschos said the process is very emotionally taxing. He said if a faculty member does not receive tenure, they get a year to continue teaching, but they must find a new position at a different college or university.

Each candidate must submit a dossier including a collection of student evaluations, their statement on teaching, and all of the work they’ve published or created over the years, among other things.

The candidates and their dossiers are then reviewed by an outside university or college, which writes a letter of recommendation based on its findings.

“We consider these important,” Leccese said. “Because these people don’t know the candidates, they can access their work.”

Recently, the student organization Protesting Oppression With Education Reform (POWER) called for the inclusion of bias reports and student evaluations relating to classroom inclusivity to be taken into consideration during faculty tenure review and promotion. They detailed the demand in the petition they created in response to lack of cultural competency at the college.

The Beacon reported on discrimination against black professors who were denied tenure in the past. Michael Brown, a black faculty member, applied for tenure and was rejected in 1977. He then sued Emerson by filing a discrimination complaint, and eventually received tenure.

“I was almost finished with law school,” said Brown, an assistant professor in the journalism department. “I had two kids, two young kids, I didn’t wanna leave. I was very very angry, very very upset.”

Even after receiving tenure, the staff attempted to fire Brown, claiming that he was not providing his full attention to his job at Emerson because of the work he did elsewhere. After meeting with members of administration, including the academic dean, the president, and an attorney he worked with, the college let go of its allegations, Brown said.

The attorney pointed out that other professors were doing other things outside of their teaching at Emerson.

“Well, what’s the difference?” Brown said. “There’s only one difference. My ethnicity. So they dropped that.”

Since Brown was forced to sue for tenure, three other professors have also filed discrimination complaints.

It wasn’t until 2007 that a black faculty member received tenure without the assistance of a lawsuit.

“When you have to fight, even when you win, there’s repercussions,” Brown said. “Some of it is embarrassment, and some of it is anger and pain. And I know I went through it. I was angry for a long time. But I’m still here.”

Within Emerson’s review process, the department chair, the department senior faculty, and the department tenured faculty simultaneously make recommendations. Then the dean of the professor’s school and the faculty status committee—which is made up of members of each department at the college—all make more recommendations.

Along with the candidate’s dossier, recommendations are based off standards found in the faculty handbook, as well as standards detailed by each individual department.

The group of recommendations are sent to the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Michaele Whelan, who then recommends the candidate to the president who follows suit and recommends the candidate to the Board of Trustees.

“It is a very complex process,” Leccese said.

The promotion and tenure review process for this semester started on Sept. 1 and runs through the fall.

Riane Roldan contributed to this report. News Editor Allison Hagan did not edit this article.

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