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Medical School faculty show support for tenure change

Chris Ryba/Daily
University President Mary Sue Coleman speaks during a Board of Regents meeting in the Fleming Administration Building on Thursday, Feb. 17. Buy this photo

BY MICHELE NAROV
Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 17, 2011

At the University’s Board of Regents meeting yesterday, University Medical School faculty voiced concerns about the need for a more flexible tenure clock, asking for a maximum 10-year probationary period. 



Established in 1944, the University’s current tenure program, as stated in the regents’ bylaw 5.09, allows for up to an eight-year probationary period, including one terminal year. The proposed changes will add two more probationary years to the tenure program.

Several years ago, an advisory board that reports to the University provost proposed to alter the tenure probationary period. During a Jan. 24 Senate Assembly meeting, University Provost Philip Hanlon introduced the idea to the assembly members.

In an interview before the Jan. 24 meeting, Hanlon said the proposed change would be an option for the various schools and colleges at the University, rather than an enforced change. He said the lengthened period wouldn’t extend the requirements needed to become tenured, but could increase the time faculty members have to make their case.

During the January Senate Assembly meeting, members of the University’s leading faculty government body voiced their displeasure with the proposal to extend the maximum tenure probationary period.

Among their concerns were worries that an increased probationary period would result in too much of a time commitment to the University that couldn’t be redeemed if the University refused the faculty tenure and the possibility that those deserving tenure wouldn’t be promoted before the probationary period expired.

However, during the public comments segment of the Board of Regents meeting yesterday, several Medical School department chairs and faculty members said they think the tenure clock should be extended to the 10-year plan. 



The faculty members mentioned delayed funding from the National Institutes of Health, lengthy research methods and personal obstacles — like having children or becoming ill — as reasons to extend the tenure probationary period for Medical School professors. 



During the meeting, John Carethers, chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at the Medical School, said the 1944 bylaw doesn’t encompass the changes in today’s science world or reflect the active role of research.

“Team science is more relevant today than it was in the past,” Carethers said.

Toby Lewis, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases at the Medical School, pointed to her own research of childhood asthma within different communities. She said this type of research, which involves years of gathering data, extends beyond the University’s tenure clock. 



Lewis also said the University needs to promote faculty who perform this extensive research because of its positive effect on policy and world health.


“I think we should be able to extend the clock since we have high-performing faculty that need a little extra time to get the work done,” Lewis said. 



Carol Bradford, chair of the Department of Otolaryngology at the Medical School, said at yesterday’s meeting that the current tenure plan isn’t family friendly because it doesn’t allow faculty time to care for their children. She added that women currently make up 18 percent of the University’s instructional track of professors at the Medical School. 



“Were it not for a few great opportunities, mentorship and lucky breaks, I might not be standing here before you today,” Bradford said. 



Similarly, Internal Medicine Prof. Susan Goold said she feels the tenure track disproportionately affects women. She added that the extended tenure offers the opportunity for manipulation of the system, as faculty could continue teaching without tenure for a longer period of time in order to keep salaries lower. 


“Some attention should be paid to that possibility,” Goold said.



In an interview after the meeting, Hanlon said he will begin to address the issue of the possible tenure changes next week.



“I’m intending to begin the public comment process next Monday,” Hanlon said.



Also interviewed after the meeting, University President Mary Sue Coleman said Hanlon’s input and public comment will contribute to the discussion of the issue, which has been examined over the last four years.

But Coleman said she realizes there are obvious concerns with the current tenure plan.

“I understand the issues that were discussed today about tenure in the medical schools,” she said, “but my inclination is to say that the faculty should have the opportunity to decide.”




—Managing Editor Kyle Swanson and Senior News Editor Joseph Lichterman contributed to this report.


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