Why have faculty tenure?
Above, Philosophy Professor Rich Geneen
At a liberal arts college, the chief responsibility of faculty is to offer our students an education that:
- frees the mind to explore new ideas,
- stresses learning to think critically, analyze thoughtfully, and communicate effectively,
- encourages students to enjoy interdisciplinary problem-solving,
- fosters those habits of mind essential to the development of leaders for the future.
The Westminster College Faculty Handbook explains that the tenure system is vital to attracting the best faculty to fulfill such a deeply important responsibility. At the same time, the Handbook states that tenure plays an important role in providing “the professional and personal security necessary for academic freedom, productive work, and the satisfaction of an academic career.”
Faculty are expected to both challenge and mentor our students, modeling the life of educated, engaged citizens. Institutions such as Westminster that uphold tenure send a strong message of how they value faculty expertise as the foundation on which we build our curriculum and develop our students.
At the same time they are developing students, faculty need the freedom to explore ideas and take risks with their research and writing. They need to be able to follow less-traveled pathways, and at times, their discoveries may be somewhat controversial. Part of their job is to teach students the ethics of the pursuit of knowledge and the responsible handling of that knowledge.
Tenure is a means by which faculty can be supported to take their research where they feel it needs to go, for the good of our society as well as for the education of our students.
It’s important to note that tenure is not life-long job security. Faculty are held to high standards, and their jobs depend on them living up to those standards. Intensive faculty reviews take place every year, as faculty evaluate each other and make recommendations to the Dean and President regarding not only tenure and promotion, but also developmental plans for those faculty needing improvement. Certainly the system isn’t perfect, but it has proven to work very well — rewarding faculty for their dedication to the College and giving those who need to grow the room to do so.
Above all, tenure at Westminster is a commitment, an affirmation that our new faculty are vital members of our academic community. It is a way of recognizing the outstanding work of the faculty and encouraging them to continue on. Given the remarkably high ratings our faculty receive year after year, the steady output of outstanding academic research, and the countless hours of service faculty give to our students and College, our tenure system is fulfilling its goals, and it will ensure a strong faculty for Westminster for years to come.
By Carolyn Perry,
Senior Vice President and Dean of Faculty