In academia, having tenure used to mean that professors would have a stable job, as well as the freedom to “pursue academic studies without fear of political pressure from the university,” Boston Globe correspondent Matt Rocheleau explained.
However, after July 1, 2014, Suffolk University’s 246 tenured faculty members will receive a post-tenure review by the provost and dean every five years to see if they exceed, meet, partially meet or don’t meet expectations, according the university’s updated handbook.
This decision comes as a surprise as private universities tend not to have a post-tenure performance review policy. In fact, there have been petitions from Suffolk’s law school and college of arts and sciences, asking the board of trustees to reverse this decision. Charles Baker, head of the American Association of University Professors Massachusetts chapter explained that “this is destroying tenure.”
Suffolk University’s decision to implement this policy comes after trustees decided to have a university-wide faculty handbook. As it stands now, the business school, colleges of arts and sciences have policies in place in handbooks that appear “separate, somewhat contradictory,” the Associated Press cited.
“We have to be more explicit and rigorous about demonstrating that we are accountable,” Suffolk president James McCarthy told the Globe. “Parents, students, accrediting agencies, and the federal government are no longer willing to accept ‘take our word for it; we’re doing a good job.’ ”
Even though this decision has some professors raising eyebrows, it is becoming an increasingly common leadership assessment tool. Previous research from Harvard showed that about half of the country’s private universities have a post-tenure review policy.
Colleges that have plans to implement a similar action in the future should also be mindful of the framework of the performance review. Professors cited that vague language in the new policy has them concerned, as well as only receiving a review from two members of the university.
“The big issue, for me, is that it seems to say that only the provost and the dean are involved in post-tenure review — no elected faculty committee,” John Berg, tenured government professor at Suffolk, added.
Before Suffolk officially rolls out the post-tenure review, the administration and board of trustees should look into utilizing a 360 feedback assessment. These performance reviews can help faculty receive feedback from colleagues and others who are impacted by their presence at the university. This alternative would also provide ease of mind to professors like Berg, who are concerned that “minor” violations could make a professor subject to termination.