The Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 8, 2002
April 8, 2002
VOL. 31, NO. 29


Tenure to be Examined at Homewood

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

For the first time in nearly 16 years, the tenure policy of the schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering will be formally examined. The deans of the two Homewood schools earlier this year appointed an ad hoc faculty committee, which had its first meeting in mid-February, to examine the long-standing and often debated practice and procedure.

The Tenure Policy Review Committee's charge is to evaluate whether the current tenure policy for the two schools should be changed; in particular, whether or not to offer tenure to all associate professors. Currently, it is given in only "exceptional" cases. A formal report, with a list of recommendations, is due to the two deans by the end of the 2002 fall semester.

The committee will hold its first two open meetings on the subject--one for tenured faculty and one for nontenured--within the next month.

William Sharpe Jr., co-chair of the committee and a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said that while it's too early in the process to know what specific issues will be discussed, a component of the existing policy that is certain to be examined at length is the near-limiting of tenure to full professors. In 1986, a Homewood Academic Council committee recommended to allow the awarding of tenure at the associate professor level in "exceptional circumstances, when the candidate has demonstrated outstanding achievement, substantial research in progress and clear promise of merit for eventual promotion to professor." In practice, the promotion of faculty to associate professor with tenure has been rare. At Homewood, where there are 360 faculty members, only two of the 253 with tenure are associate professors.

"The main issue is whether this current policy makes Hopkins less competitive in hiring and retaining untenured, young faculty," Sharpe said. "At almost every other university in the United States, when someone is promoted to associate professor, tenure comes with it."

According to committee members, the argument for awarding tenure at the associate professor level is that faculty would be secure earlier in their academic careers. One argument for retaining the current policy, however, is that since Hopkins is relatively so small in comparison to its peers, it cannot afford to "make a mistake" in the awarding of tenure.

Currently, a faculty member in Arts and Sciences or Engineering can serve as an instructor for no more than three years, assistant professor for no more than seven, nontenured associate professor for no more than six, and at all levels for no more than 11, before receiving a tenure review.

Tenure policies at other Hopkins schools vary and are not expected to be impacted by the committee's findings.

The committee, which has met every two weeks since its formation, is currently comprised of 13 members. In addition to Sharpe, they are Betsy Bryan, chair of Near Eastern Studies; William Connolly, co-chair of the committee and a professor in Political Science; Ali Khan, a professor in Economics; Eaton Lattman, chair of Biophysics; Daniel Naiman, a professor in Mathematical Sciences; Wilson J. Rugh, a professor in Computer and Electrical Engineering; Trina Schroer, a professor in Biology; Kathleen Stebe, a professor in Chemical Engineering; Daniel Weiss, dean of the faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences; and Michael Williams, a professor in Philosophy. Ex-officio members are Richard McCarty, James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and Ilene Busch-Vishniac, dean of the Whiting School of Engineering. Weiss will become an ex-officio member on July 1 when he succeeds McCarty as dean of Arts and Sciences.

Sharpe said the purpose of the first two open meetings is to "simply sit and listen to concerns and opinions." For nontenured faculty, a meeting will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. on Friday, April 26, in the Sherwood Room, Levering Hall. At this meeting, Sharpe said, nontenured faculty will be able to interact with both the committee and each other without the presence of senior faculty who will be considering their promotion. A meeting for tenured faculty will take place during the same hours on Friday, May 3, in the Clipper Room, Shriver Hall.

In addition to holding the open meetings, the committee will be requesting information on tenure from department chairs. Sharpe also expects the issue to be discussed throughout the year at both faculty assemblies and chair meetings.

"Right now we are formulating what we know and what the issues are," Sharpe said. "I expect the fall semester will be devoted to specifics."

Sharpe said it should not be assumed that some change in tenure policy will occur as a result of the committee's findings.

"I think that there is a reasonably balanced view on both sides whether tenure policies should be changed or not," Sharpe said. "There is certainly a fair amount of opinion that we shouldn't change the basic concept of saving tenure to the full professor level."

Co-chair William Connolly said that for the committee to be successful, it needs the input of the faculty. The two upcoming meetings, he said, will be critical to the committee's deliberations, and he encourages everyone to attend.

"We've had excellent preliminary discussions with a wide range of perspectives represented on the committee," Connolly said. "And we think those discussions have put us in a good position to listen attentively to the thoughts of the faculty in respect to the existing tenure policies."