As the school semester winds to a close, faculty and staff discuss the concept of tenure and why they have and have not received it at SHSU.
Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Brian Chapman said tenure is a privilege meant to protect faculty members.
“Tenure allows you to be free from persecution from outside,” Chapman said. “By that, I mean legal persecution.”
“At most universities, once you get tenure, you really can’t be fired for almost any reason,” he said. “If you do something illegal or if you do something immoral, you can be fired. But even then, it’s hard to fire you.”
Chapman said the criteria for receiving tenure may vary slightly from department to department, but for the most part, a professor must work at SHSU for at least five years but no more than six and then apply.
Once they have applied, a committee of tenured faculty in the applicant’s department vote through a secret ballot whether or not to support the application. The department chair is exempt from the vote and acts as moderator.
A simple majority is all that is needed for the department to support the applying professor, and then the department head passes the application on to the college dean and the university president. The president’s office has final say on whether or not the application is accepted.
If a professor does not receive tenure, he or she has the choice to resign at the end of the school year or stay on for one more year under terminal contract.
Chapman said there are three requirements concerning the university acceptance of an application. The professor must have the proper skills and values needed, he or she must be active in research, must show they will continue to be active in research and that he or she enjoys working at the university.
Research at the university includes having grad students working under the professor on projects and also seeking out grants to help fund the projects. Chapman added that the applying professor must have a good record, and said the application process can be an anxious one for a professor.
“I’ve been up for tenure at two universities, and I can tell you, it’s a scary situation,” Chapman said.
Chapman said tenure can be abused either when faculty vote against a professor out of fear that he or she will show them up, and may also vote in an under qualified professor just because that professor will go along with the department.
He added that some tenured professors might become complacent once they receive tenure.
“I know some faculty members, not necessarily at this university, that once they got tenure, they up and ‘quit,'” Chapman said.
Professor of physical chemistry Michael McCann is one professor whose application for tenure was turned down last semester.
McCann wrote an editorial to The Houstonian where he said that the department’s control over deciding who received tenure had been weakened since the new administration took over.
“It seems tenure is being decided by the administration and the department vote doesn’t mean anything anymore,” McCann said.
McCann said he received a 3-2 vote in favor of granting him tenure last spring, but he was still denied.
“In the past, if your department voted for you by a simple majority, then you got it,” McCann said.
Because he did not receive tenure, McCann chose to resign at the end of this semester.
McCann said that prior to the current administration, former SHSU President Bobby K. Marks allowed almost all professors who received a majority vote to receive tenure.
He added that during a private conversation with Chapman, the dean told him that the reason he had not received tenure was because he was among the worst teachers in the chemistry department and he didn’t bring any grant money into the school.
“Neither statement is true,” McCann said. “He also said I didn’t have any grad students, which is true, but there are not many grad students to start with.”
McCann added that his department head Rick White also told him that while he had written articles published in various science magazines, he had not had any undergraduate students co-write the articles. McCann said that other professors in the past had received tenure thought they too wrote articles without the aid of students.
“One question I ask myself is, ‘who really made this decision?'” McCann said.
Chapman could not comment on the topic because the issue is a personnel decision, which restricts him from speaking about decisions concerning McCann or any other professor applying for tenure.
“One of the unfortunate things about personnel decisions is that people can say anything they want about me, and I can’t say anything back,” Chapman said.
McCann said he feels he has been a good professor at SHSU, and that he should have received tenure.
“My gut tells me I’m not the more popular personality in the chemistry department, but I’m not the most hated either,” McCann said. “I put myself somewhere in the middle.”
Professor of photography Emmette Jackson is the senior ranking professor in the SHSU communications department. Jackson came to SHSU 27 years ago and received his tenure after teaching for six semesters.
Jackson said tenure does not change who the professor is, but simply grants security against legal repercussions.
“Really, in today’s world all tenure does is ensure due process,” Jackson said. “It does make you more comfortable with a number of issues of academic freedom.”
Jackson worked for the industrial technologies department when he first came to SHSU in the 1970s. He said when he sought tenure, the faculty kept files on him and reported what they thought to their superiors.
Jackson said he thinks the process is fair, and that he has not seen any indications that it’s not.
“I feel that I have always been treated fairly,” Jackson said. “I can’t speak for everyone in all departments, but I think tenure has been fair.”
Jackson added the tenure process is only unfair when the rules for selected professors are not followed.
McCann said that in his case he was not treated fairly and equally and that many professors who had not been eligible for tenure still received it.
Chapman said as late as last semester the university was still bending the rules concerning eligibility for tenure, but that beginning this year, SHSU would be strictly following the rules of tenure applications.
McCann said when his contract is up he will start his new job at Sci-Tech, a new biotech company in Tennessee. He said that while he has received requests from his students to remain a teacher, he does not see that happening.
“I don’t think the university is really interested in teaching anymore,” McCann said. “I think they’re only interested in things that bring in money.”
Chapman said the university does have a productive faculty, and that the majority of professors at SHSU have received tenure because of their hard work.
“We have a very dedicated faculty, and we want to keep it that way,” said Chapman.