The anti-tenure track

Tenure is getting more rare in the current academic world – and at some institutions much more difficult and inequitably awarded.

This recent article from USC’s Daily Trojan tells one horrific story, but also paints a broader picture of practices at that institution.images-1

“On April 3, Assistant Professor of International Relations Mai’a Keapuolani Davis Cross, who had traveled cross-country from her tenure track position at Colgate University to join USC in 2008, was told she would not be granted tenure.

“Her position at the university will be terminated following the current academic year.

Tenure, as it is described in the university’s faculty handbook, is indispensable to the success of an institution in fulfilling its obligations to its students and society. For faculty, attaining tenure provides not only freedom of teaching and research, but economic security. The process begins with the preparation of a dossier presenting evidence of a candidate’s fitness for tenure. Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Beth Meyerowitz said candidates are put through an extensive and carefully vetted review process.

“It starts at the department level closest to the faculty member,” Meyerowitz told the Daily Trojan last October, when reporting for this story commenced. “Then it goes through the Dean’s office and then through the University Committee on Academic Promotions and Tenure  and then finally to the Provost and the President.” The dossier includes letters from both internal and external peer review sources.

“We seek outside letters from experts around the country about the impact that their work has had in their field,” Meyerowitz said. According to a letter dated April 9, 2012, from then-Dornsife Dean Howard Gillman, Cross’s denial of tenure was because of a lack of discipline-wide enthusiasm of her scholarly contributions. Marvin E. Krakow, Cross’ attorney, who shared Gillman’s letter with the Daily Trojan, said the denial of her tenure came as a surprise.

“Professor Cross’ evaluations uniformly were outstanding or outstanding plus,” Krakow said in an interview. “She was recommended by the department for tenure. She was also recommended by the faculty.” Laura Pulido, a tenured professor of American studies and ethnicity and founder of the Committee for Tenure Justice at USC, said she has serious concerns regarding the university’s tenure process.“I’ve been here since 1993 and I’ve seen a lot of tenure cases come and go during that time,” Pulido told the Daily Trojan last November. “Over the last decade or so, it just seems to be a problem.” In March 2011, Pulido presented her Tenure Bill of Rights to students and faculty in the hopes of convincing UCAPT to enact 13 points to make the tenure system more transparent.

“One of the main issues addressed in the Tenure Bill of Rights is the lack of feedback regarding why an individual was denied tenure. “You should be able to share that with a person since you’re determining their livelihood,” Pulido said. “It’s important to know how your peers view your work and where you can improve.” In addition to Cross’ award-winning publications — including three books, four book chapters and eight journals — she received USC’s 2011 Steven B. Sample Teaching and Mentoring award, which is awarded to one junior faculty member annually.”

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