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Faculty tenure policy reviewed

February 12, 2012

By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
sdnedu@bellsouth.net

The Mississippi State University Robert Holland Faculty Senate is working on potential changes to the university’s promotion and tenure document, which outlines the process by which a faculty member applies for tenure.
“We have a very good document that outlines the policies and procedures related to promotion and tenure,” MSU Provost Jerry Gilbert said. “No major or substantive changes are need, only some relatively minor edits for additions and clarification to several items.”
Gilbert and David Shaw, vice president of research and economic development, asked the senate to review the promotion and tenure document for those modifications. The document is a university-wide policy, but each college and department also has its own version.
One of the main issues being discussed is the potential need for more time to complete the process. Each college and department handles the promotion and tenure process a little differently, so some faculty members will need more time to prepare than others.
Around his or her sixth year of employment at the university, a professor must prepare a portfolio that details the work completed over the last five years. Their work is reviewed based on learning, research and service to the institution.
“The portfolio tries to make a case that we’re worthy of the investment of tenure,” senate President Megan Millea said.
The portfolio is submitted to their department, but is also reviewed by faculty from another university who can judge the work without bias. That outside source will write a recommendation to MSU regarding the quality of that faculty member’s work.
“These external letters are an affirmation step, but they’re also pretty difficult to get,” Millea said.
It is often difficult to find a faculty member with no connections to the promotion candidate who is willing to take the time to conduct the review. A faculty member from the history department, for example, may have hundreds to thousands of pages worth of work in their portfolio, making the review a lengthy process.
Gilbert has suggested the senate consider moving up the date by which a faculty member must notify their department of their intent to be considered for promotion or tenure.
“This notification date would allow the department to have adequate time to identify and solicit external letters of evaluation from faculty members from other universities, as required in our process,” he said.
While adequate time seems to be the main issue, the senate is also looking into the wording of various sections of the document.
“Now that we’ve been asked to look at, we’re saying ‘here are some issues we’d like to look at.’ We’re combing through it and looking at the issues that the provost has brought up, the vice president of research has brought up and also dealing with things as faculty members that we’ve seen in terms of going through that process,” Millea said.
The promotion and tenure process is a time consuming process, but is one that is vital to a professor’s career.
“If you don’t get tenured, you get a terminal contract and you have to leave the university. It’s a big deal. It can make or break somebody’s academic career,” Millea said. “Say you get a Ph. D. and you get hired at a university, and you go through their promotion and tenure process and you’re denied promotion, no other university of Mississippi State’s quality or higher will hire you. It’s a game-changing event. That’s why it’s so important to us and we will talk and talk and talk about it.”
In addition to providing job security, tenure offers a faculty member with certain academic freedoms in terms of research and class instruction. The last time the document was modified was 2008.
“It is important that we review all of our policies and procedures on a regular basis,” Gilbert said. “I am supportive of the senate’s effort of reviewing the document, and I am confident that they will recommend edits to the document that will improve our process.”
Millea said the senate will likely vote on the document during the March meeting. Once the senate and university President Mark Keenum approve the modifications, the document will be complete.
“Jerry (Gilbert) and I are both looking forward to working with them to be sure the highest standards are established, and a fair and open process is delineated,” Shaw said.

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