Post Classifieds

Tenure process sparks petition, protests

By Cheryl Waity and Rachel Metea
On May 31, 2011

There was a student-run protest in front of the student center on Thursday, May 26. But many of these protesters weren't the people you would see sit next to you in class, they would be the ones to stand in front of the class.

The protest was in regards to a petition circulated by Valerie Johnson, an associate professor of political science, who called a Council of the Whole (University Faculty) "to discuss the unresponsiveness of the administration to faculty concerns, including but not limited to those related to the tenure and promotion process, a lack of shared governance in key decisions impacting faculty, and faculty morale and campus climate."

Earlier this month, Johnson circulated two other petitions, which she later replaced with the current one. The earlier petitions targeted Father Holtschneider and Provost Helmut Epp specifically for decisions and actions in several specific tenure cases. These called for a Vote of No Confidence, a move that Johnson said would serve as a symbolic indication of the majority of the council's confidence in President Holtschneider. This move has since been revised.

"People have a number of issues that they are concerned with," Johnson said. "So we wanted to make it as broad as possible."

Phil Funk, the president of the Faculty Council said he believed that the reason a petition like this was proposed in the first place was because some faculty members "feel like they aren't being heard."

Think of what a big deal is to give someone a job for life, he said. "You want to be very confident in the system that gives tenure," Funk said.

For a Council of the Whole to convene, 50 full-time faculty members must sign the petition, which will then be presented to the Faculty Council on Wednesday, June 1.

According to Johnson, a professor's signature on the petition is non-binding. It only serves to "request that a meeting take place in order to discuss issues of concern," she said.

Once the petition has the necessary signatures, the Council of the Whole will convene, which then requires a quorum of least 25 percent of the faculty—or in DePaul's case 250 members—to attend the meeting.

"Fifty signatures is easy, but to get the quorum of 250 to hold the meeting is a huge threshold," Funk said.

At the meeting, a referendum would need to be written and voted on by a majority of the members present. However, this decision is subject to ratification by a majority vote amongst the full-time faculty members, which would take place in a special mail ballot.

"Could be an incredibly large length of time," Funk said.

But the cases of professors Namita Goswami and Quinetta Shelby were not all based on FatherHoltschneider's opinion of their tenure cases. "There has been a lot of faculty input in those cases," Funk said.

A faculty member will undergo four reviews to determine whether or not they will receive tenure. The first review is by fellow faculty members from the same department. The second review is done by leaders of the specific college, which looks at all tenure cases from their departments. After the second review, the request is examined by University Board on Promotion and Tenure, which is a committee from faculty across the university, seven faculty members drawn from the nine different colleges. Lastly the request is examined byHoltschneider, and then a final decision is reached. Both Goswami and Shelby were denied by their own departments, approved by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and denied by the tenure board.

If a faculty member is denied tenure they may appeal their case at the start of the new academic year to the appeals board, which consists of three members. The president then bases the final decision based on the suggestion of the appeal board. However, he is not bound to the board's recommendation.

Quinetta Shelby, who has taught in the chemistry department since 2004, and Namita Goswami, a DePaul philosophy professor since 2004 were denied their appeals for tenure.

The appeal boards in both their tenure process found violations. Holtschneider disagreed with the rulings. The decision for Shelby will be determined within the next couple weeks, Holtschneider said.

Holtschneider withdrew his decision and said the council needs a process to basically evaluate potential bias. Two plans have already been proposed, one by Holtschneider and one by a member of the council, but neither has passed. A third process has been offered with one major dissent, created by five members of the faculty and father's representatives. This would be a second level appeals hearing.

"Some people call it an appeal of the appeal," Funk said.

According to Holtschneider, tenure is determined by the candidates' teaching quality, research ability, and service to the university.

"At DePaul," Holtschneider said, "we put a higher power on the teaching quality than some other colleges do."

Johnson said there are other factors that determine whether a faculty member receives tenure. "If people don't like you," she said, "it doesn't matter how much research you have, or have good of a teacher you are," she said.

But not all faculty members agree.

"Faculty is all over the map on this," Funk said. According to Funk, some believe that if academic freedom or bias is called into question during the tenure process, then it should be automatic tenure. Some believe the system is not flawed.

"It's sometimes cast as the faculty wants something and the administration won't let us have it," Funk said. However, Funk said there are many "camps of people" who all want different things.

"What happens is faculty fighting with faculty," he said.

With summer approaching, the petition is put in a unique time crunch. "On the one hand if there are a lot of faculty disaffected it is Faculty Council's responsibility to hold the meeting now," Funk said. "If we're going to do this we need to do it quickly."

Funk fears that if it's not done quickly there might be a lot of steam and energy lost and that it "would not serve the people who signed the petition."

Funk said he is not aware that a council of the whole has ever been called ever.

Mostly faculty and graduate students attended the Thursday's protest.

"It wouldn't be a university if people weren't out fighting for their opinion," Holtschneider said.


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