Tentative tenure keeps professors on edge

Trying to maintain control over your university education can be a struggle. While conversations are ongoing over what kind of say students should have on topics such as tuition, course content and accessibility, few students are aware that their voices are also considered in deciding promotions and tenure for professor applicants.

Tenure and promotion ensure professors a permanent position at an institution, which entails job security. This refers to the change in a professor’s status from assistant to associate professor.

Two weeks ago, students were sent an email listing the names of professors applying for tenure and promotion.

“Once you have tenure, [the nature of] your job doesn’t change in any particular way. You still have the same teaching and researching responsibilities. The purpose of tenure is to make sure that academics feel that they have the freedom to pursue research and teachings that might seem unpopular, politically controversial or groundbreaking,” said tenure applicant Leslie Kern, a professor in Mount Allison’s women’s and gender studies department. “So for me, I see it as an enhancement of the freedom that I already have that allows me to take my research where it wants to take me.”

Teacher tenure amd promotion decided by administration, faculty and students. Andreas Fobes/Argosy
Teacher tenure amd promotion decided by administration, faculty and students. Andreas Fobes/Argosy

According to section 17.15 of the Full-time Collective Agreement between Mount Allison University and the Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA), “Employees, staff, alumni, or students, other than members of the sub-committee, may submit to the sub-committee their own written evaluations of the candidate’s performance insofar as the appropriate criteria listed in this article are concerned, together with their reasons for these evaluations.”

With a simple letter, students can have an impact on the status of a professor’s position. These letters are then sent to a committee along with additional letters from other members of the applicant’s academic department(s), present and past research, and the anonymous course evaluations students fill out at the end of each semester.

“Letters that you might write to us after you graduate or after you’ve taken a course with us, we keep those,” Kern said. “Those letters are really important to us, not just for tenure, but [to] really give us some guidance as to what we might be doing well or not.”

In section 17.23, the Agreement also states: “When a faculty member is not granted tenure, their contract will be terminated at the end of the following academic year.”

A professor who does not receive tenure could continue to work at Mt. A for a whole year after the termination of their contract while trying to find another job, a process that could mean relocating out of Sackville, out of the province or even out of the country.

“If I was looking for another a job while trying to think about picking up my life and moving with my family, something would suffer. My teaching, community service or research would suffer,” said Robbie Moser, a tenure applicant in the philosophy department.

Aside from having to relocate, “There is a professional embarrassment or shame that comes with [not getting tenure] too. Rightly or wrongly, you can get stigmatized if you don’t get tenure and go looking for it somewhere else,” Moser said.

Similarly, Kern said, “Tenure itself is a status that means you are no longer a probationary employee of the university but a full-time, continuing employee.”

Tenure and promotion do not necessarily lead to salary raises. Specifically at Mt. A, Kern said, “Promotion means that you are promoted to a new title. So, it is a promotion in name. As per the collective agreement, we do receive a step in pay every year, but that is not related to promotion. So whether I am an assistant professor or an associate professor next year, I will be making the same amount of money,” she said. “[Asking for tenure] is about just reaching different types of plateaus in the academic hierarchy.”

Student and community input is important to professors, regardless of their intentions of asking for tenure and promotion. Although the application date to send in letters has passed this year, be sure to find out how you can contribute to a professor’s position in the future.    

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