October 21, 2014

Bucking nation wide trend, tenure-track positions increase

The University has seen a 7-percent increase in tenure-track positions over the last five years as tenure-track positions decline in universities nationwide.

Professors who have tenure have the right to permanently maintain their positions, unless they are terminated with a just cause. Professors who are on tenure track will receive tenure once they have completed a probationary period, in which University officials closely examine their overall performances.

As of spring 2014, 40.7 percent of the University of Chicago’s professorial staff are tenured and on tenure track, while 71 percent are tenured at Princeton, 63.2 percent at Stanford, and 25.5 percent at Yale. According to the latest records from the National Center for Education from 2009, 33.5 percent of professors nationwide are on tenure and tenure track.

In a statement, President Robert Zimmer attributed this growing number to the University’s objective of expanding educational programs.

“Nothing is more essential to the University, to the evolution of our research and education programs at all levels, and to fostering our distinctive academic culture than the renewal of our faculty,” he wrote.

According to data from the American Association of University Professors from October 2014, since 1975 tenure and tenure-track professors have gone from approximately 45 percent of all teaching staff to less than 25 percent. Comparatively, non-tenure-track professors account for 76 percent of all instructional staff in American universities. Part-time faculty comprise more than 40 percent of college instructors. Due to the United States’s economic state, more professors are being hired as adjuncts, or professors who do not hold permanent positions at a university.

According to spokesperson Steve Kloehn, varied student interests have driven the University toward opening new positions.

“Some new positions were established in response to competitively evaluated proposals for new faculty within departments, or spanning two or more departments,” Kloehn wrote in a statement. “Some of the expansion allowed for recruitment into disciplines new to the University, such as the creation of the Institute for Molecular Engineering.”

Booth School professor Nicholas Epley said building tenure strengthens University bonds among professors and students.

“I think it’s excellent that the University is maintaining its commitment to building our University by investing in the best faculty available. You do this by maintaining, or even expanding, tenure-track lines. In the long run, this is how you maintain an educational environment that is most attractive to the best students in the world,” Epley wrote in a statement.

At the University tenure emphasizes professors who have made various, specific achievements in their fields. According to the University’s policy, which is governed first by Statute 11, assistant professors serve for a renewable term of either three or four years for a total of no more than seven before they are considered for tenure, which also considers any academic achievements they have made during that period. All professors have received tenure, which means that they are guaranteed their position at the University for an indefinite period of time. Assistant professors, who are professors ranked right below associate professors, also have received tenure.

These decisions are ultimately made through the University Senate, which is composed of professors, associate professors, assistant professors, the president, the provost, and the vice presidents of the University. This council meets once a year to discuss changes in the Senate or among the faculty. The Council of the University Senate, a subset of 51 members of the Senate, consists of the president and provost, along with 49 elected members of the Senate. The council meets at least once a quarter to discuss smaller issues.

One professor said the University could possibly raise its standards for tenure.

“I actually think in certain areas we should raise our standard to make the University as a whole a better place,” Chuan He, chemistry professor and director of the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics, said in a statement. “It is also possible to consider restructuring certain disciplines that may not be as appealing intellectually as, say, 20–30 years ago, of course without sacrificing teaching.”

Sociology professor Linda Waite said that though tenure can allow professors to work less, she does not believe that will affect University of Chicago professors.

“I think that if tenure frees one independent thinker in 100 scholars to fly in the face of received wisdom or the politically correct, then it is a bargain,” she said. “And social pressure from colleagues, especially at the University of Chicago, keeps all but the most socially insensitive working very hard.”