Friday, March 5, 2010

Rethinking Tenure

The President of The Ohio State University is opening conversations about the qualifications for tenure. His point questions if the most qualified are the biggest researchers? Should a research profile be the benchmark?

For those of you who have not attended The Ohio State, this statement there will probably be considered by most, blasphemy or at least crazy thinking. Is this going to get attention with lots of backlash? For sure. However the source is Gorden Gee. In higher education nationally everyone loves him; administrators, deans, chairs, faculty, students, dogs, cats, and probably a space alien or two. I bet Limbaugh would fear to criticize him.

What is he respected for? Candid opinions and well though out discussion topics. For years there has been talk about what constitutes a valuable faculty member to colleges. The benchmark is how close a faculty member is to being a researcher that brings in lots of grant money for big, big research.

The closer someone is to this profile, the better are his or her chances for tenure.

This emphasis on research sharpened and escalated after WWII when we were very aware of the importance of our being scientific ready. Not a bad move. But other factors are here to play now.

In 1949, only 25% of people in high school made it to graduation.(This figure did not include minorities and lower socioeconomic students when they dropped out or were unable to attend high school) Over 75% (educated guess estimate)of students graduate, there are many more students now, and 60% of them continue on to college.

What we are experiencing now is more people than ever are in college; more students than ever under-prepared and under-mature. We have all experienced the wide eyed student in our classes staring as us incoherently and a bit frightened, not quite understanding where they are.

College has changed from underneath us. The challenge is that college is the most economical and easiest way to do original research, something that is needed to keep commercial and government influences out. so we have to keep that intact. The next statistic is very important for how we have to change our thinking. That is only 50% of students nationally graduate. Not all are lost because they are not capable of graduating and we don't know how they will contribute.

What is needed? A core of people that want to teach and mentor students. This is not a new idea at all. Higher education faculty have been talking about this for years. The part that is interesting is now that Gordon Gee, the most popular person on earth, is publicly agreeing with this, will things change? This change will be not to eliminate researchers (no matter how annoying they may be), but to look at a broader rubric for assessing faculty for tenure.

And, will this bring back more tenure professors? With such a narrow benchmark, tenure had to shrink. Broadening the qualifications may allow more tenured faculty because they are not going to eliminate researchers.

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