At a forum on Friday at Palmer Commons, a panel of experts encouraged students to learn more about the University’s tenure process and dispelled certain beliefs expressed by students about its complicated nature.
The event was titled “No Prof Left Behind” and was co-sponsored by multiple minority student groups.
The forum’s speakers encouraged students to get involved with what some students felt was a secretive process by becoming more informed about how tenure works at the University.
“The tenure process affects students’ education in profound ways, and it is important students have an active role in learning about that process,” said panel member Scott Kurashige, an associate professor in the American culture and history departments.
Iñigo de la Cerda, an RC lecturer and panel member, said students could have a lot of leverage in making the tenure process by organizing and writing letters of support to the administration on behalf of professors.
“If students decided that they want to get involved, there’s a possibility that they could make the tenure process more transparent and more democratic,” de la Cerda said.
The process begins at the departmental level, where a professor must undergo review by other tenured professors who work in the same field. If a professor applying for tenure holds a joint appointment in two departments, he or she is reviewed by both departments.
If the candidate earns positive reviews at the departmental level, he or she is then reviewed by a committee representing his or her college, such as the College of Literature, Sciences and the Arts or the College of Engineering.
Finally, a University-wide committee reviews the tenure application and decides whether or not to recommend the candidate for approval to University Provost Teresa Sullivan. Sullivan decides whether to recommend the professor to the University Board of Regents, which officially grants tenure.
Still, some students have publicly criticized the University for not awarding tenure to more minority professors, which they say would better reflect the diversity among University students.
More recently, a viewpoint that appeared in The Michigan Daily on Wednesday criticized the University for denying tenure to five female “professors of color” this year.
University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said only one of the five professors was actually denied tenure, while final decisions for the other four professors have yet to be made.
Kurashige said contested tenure decisions often involve candidates working in fields like women’s studies and American culture, which tenure committees might view as less scholarly than more established subjects like English and history.
“The issue of what really counts as academic work, of whose research is truly deemed academic, has never been resolved,” Kurashige said.
Kurashige said the subjective nature of tenure decisions is even more evident when a professor holds joint appointments in two University departments.