April 22, 2012

New Professors Face Tenure Review

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Correction appended

As the University prepares to hire a huge number of professors, candidates will face different degrees of review for tenure at Cornell, depending on their teaching ability, experience and the caliber of their former institution.Junior faculty — untenured professors — at the University often have to wait about six years before they are reviewed for tenure. But when hiring new faculty, Cornell does not have a defined process for determining which candidates receive tenure, according to John Siliciano ’75, vice president for academic affairs.“There actually isn’t a policy” on granting tenure to newly hired faculty, Siliciano said, “because we have to make judgments based on very individual circumstances.”Siliciano said that if faculty are hired “laterally” — to the same position they held at another university of comparable caliber — they are guaranteed tenure. Rather than undergo an extensive review process, they may need to simply wait for approval by a committee of faculty; the dean of the college; and the University Provost before being granted tenure.“They know it, we know it … We’re hiring them as a tenured professor,” Siliciano said. “In that case, the only thing that process is doing is complying with [University] rules. It’s just a bunch of little formalities.”But Prof. Adam Smith, anthropology, who came to Cornell from the University of Chicago last fall, said he had a different experience.“When they hired me here, it was basically probationary,” he said, describing his past year at the University as “going through the exact same process [of review for tenure] all over again.”“In effect, to come work at Cornell, you have to give up your tenure and your position,” Smith added.Smith said that most candidates who come to Cornell on the condition that they be reviewed again for tenure assume that the process will be a relatively smooth one, assuming they meet the University’s standards. “You already made it through the hiring process, so the process of tenuring and promotion shouldn’t be all that difficult,” Smith said.Like Smith, Prof. Ted Sider, philosophy, said that new hires who had tenure at their former university are likely to receive tenure once he or she has agreed to work at their new institution.Although one does have to be “technically” reviewed again for tenure, “I’ve moved a couple times since I’ve gotten tenure [and] it’s usually very unlikely that you would not be successfully re-renewed,” Sider said.In addition to hiring some faculty “laterally,” the University sometimes hires people as full professors who were considered junior faculty at their former institution.According to Prof. Ron Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations, although Cornell likes to “grow our own talent” by promoting and encouraging the development of junior faculty, it will occasionally offer tenure to talented, young faculty from other institutions.“If there’s a young star at another university, we can try to pre-empt what his or her university is doing and see if we can get their tenure promoted early,” Ehrenberg told The Sun in March.For instance, Sider said his wife, Prof. Jill North, philosophy, was “coming up” for tenure at the college she worked at last spring when she was both hired and given tenure by Cornell.“She didn’t have tenure previously, and so that’s a bigger deal,” Sider said, adding that the tenure process was “done before we got here.”The University offers faculty from other institutions tenure upon being hired if they are identified as a “target of opportunity,” said Prof. Charles Brittain, classics, chair of the Department of Classics.“If we identify that person as the best person in the search, when we offer them a job, it [also] means that we want to offer them tenure,” Brittain said.Siliciano said, however, that the decision to offer early tenure to a faculty member remains under the discretion of the department in which that candidate would teach.“Those [decisions] are always based on the department’s assessment of whether the person is ready to come up under Cornell standards,” he said.For instance, according to Siliciano, a candidate who comes from a university with lower standards can “fall backwards” and have to undergo a more extensive review to be granted tenure at Cornell.“The amount of process you’re typically going to see is proportional to the amount of uncertainty we have about [the hire],” Siliciano said.One of the most common examples of such a tenure process, according to Siliciano, involves candidates who focus primarily on research and have less teaching experience. Although the candidate may be hired, he or she will only be considered for tenure once their department has evaluated their teaching abilities.“We want to see them up close,” Siliciano said.Although some professors may find an extended tenure process nerve-wracking or frustrating, Brittain said that waiting to give tenure — especially for candidates who primarily focus on research — is beneficial for the University.“That’s a good way of getting the best people … [and making] sure they put effort into teaching,” Brittain said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly gave the first name of Prof. Ted Sider, philosophy. His first name is Ted, not Tom.

Original Author: Caroline Flax