The University’s Senate Advisory Committee focused on tenure policies at their weekly meeting Monday, where they examined suggestions provided by University President Mark Schlissel.

Engineering Prof. Bill Schultz, SACUA vice chair, said several SACUA members met with Schlissel earlier in the summer to discuss issues surrounding several topics, including tenure, and Schlissel offered several suggestions.

The concerns included how public engagement factors into the tenure process, as well as the procedures involved when applying for tenure in more than one department. Schultz said Schlissel also offered suggestions related to classroom inclusivity and sexual harassment, but Schultz did not expand upon those during the meeting.

SACUA Chair Silke-Maria Weineck, professor of Germanic languages and literature, said before the group could respond, it was important to determine what kind of influence SACUA had in setting those kinds of policies.

The role of social media in tenure

Discussing the role of public engagement in the tenure process, members explored the possibility of basing tenure not only on scholastic merit, but also factors like online reach.

"Do we need to rethink the components of tenure and how we weigh things, and that your tweet-ability is going to replace your scholarship?" Internal Medicine Prof. Angela Fagerlin asked. “Because you may have a huge impact on the field because of your tweets.”

However, Pharmacy Prof. David Smith said tenure should be decided by actions that occur within the University, and said Internet optics or other kinds of external engagements, such as serving as an expert witness, should have no clout in the tenure process.

“I mean expert witness, put it on your C.V., put it on your annual evaluation, nobody’s going to promote you for being an expert witness if you’re doing everything else wrong,” Smith said. “It’s just a little tiny thing, it’s not scholarship.”

Anne Mondro, professor of Art & Design, said tenure considerations could reflect the concerns of various departments.

“I think fields are moving in different directions. For the arts, it's not just about showing in a gallery anymore,” Mondro said. “There’s many different ways of now distributing your work in the world, so I think there does have to be discussions about tenure to reflect the change in the fields and time.”

Several members suggested one of the Faculty Senate’s committees investigate whether current policies are sufficient to address other factors like public visibility in the tenure process. No formal decision to do so was reached.

SACUA also discussed the extent to which a faculty member's public comments or presence should influence the University privileges they're granted or the University discipline they receive. For example, to what extent can a faculty member face formal consequences related to their job for tweeting an inappropriate remark? The conversation referenced a proposed University professional guideline that would outline the obligations of faculty members to respect the academic freedom of their colleagues.

Weineck said that speaking ill of the university shouldn’t be punishable since that action does not infringe on the academic freedom of others, and is well within the rights of a faculty member to critique the institution.

“Surely, you cannot outlaw it,” Weineck said.

Joint appointments before tenure

Another suggestion from Schlissel was for SACUA to address the tenure process for faculty members who are applying for joint appointments among different schools within the University.

Weineck said handling different tenure criteria from different schools, and having two sets of cultures to navigate, means it’s not always in the interest of a junior faculty member to straddle multiple departments.

“For an administrator it’s a pain in the neck,” Weineck said. “I have to talk to 15 different chairs when I set salaries at the end every year.”

However, she added that though joint appointments may be messy from an administrative standpoint, they can be beneficial to departments.

“In my experience it does a lot more good,” she said, “For instance, German wanted to become a German Studies department rather than a German Literature department, and hired people with Ph.D.’s in Film, Ph.D.’s in History, and so for these people it was important to them to keep a strong presence in their Ph.D. field.”

Several members suggested collecting more data about the experiences of joint appointees, either by asking the deans of various schools or by surveying individuals with joint appointments directly, before considering changes to the policy.

Faculty letter endorsement

Additionally, SACUA endorsed on behalf of the Senate Assembly a faculty letter from the Provost regarding students who miss class while representing the University, such as student athletes.

According to the letter, it is the responsibility of the student to prepare advance notice of absences at the beginning of the term, and for faculty to work in tandem with those requirements.

“When students are absent from class of behalf of the University, there is an expectation that you and the student make alternative arrangements to finish class assignments,” the letter read. “The alternative arrangements should not unduly inconvenience either you or the student.”

However, the letter did not specify which students specifically were allotted the privileges, prompting some members of SACUA to express concern over whether the letter included club sport athletes as well. 

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