Course evaluations do matter
The tenure track: how professors achieve the coveted status
At the end of each semester, students have the opportunity to critique or praise professors during teacher evaluations. These mysterious, classified pieces of paper are kept carefully out of professors’ reach until after grades have been submitted—and for good reason. Teaching evaluations are taken into account when a professor is considered for tenure.
To many students, tenure is merely a mark of professorial status based on their number of years of teaching experience. To professors, tenure is an important and nationally-recognized status bestowed on professors who are committed to academia and have fulfilled stringent requirements.
According to USD’s Rank and Tenure Policy, tenure is defined as the right to continuing employment for a faculty member until the faculty member resigns or retires according to other university policy.
The University of San Diego has a specific tenure track process, which is not unlike the tenure tracks at other universities. The review process is conducted primarily by a Rank and Tenure Committee composed of 10 or more tenured faculty members.
There is a seven-year probationary period for faculty members wishing to pursue tenure. The tenure decision must be made in the sixth year of the process. Exceptional performance can be reason for an accelerated tenure process. If a professor with five years of previous professorial experience did extraordinary work, they could possibly reach tenure faster.
There are four main criteria for consideration for tenure at USD: teaching; research, creative work, and professional activity; university and public service; and support of the mission of the university. In the case of the University Library, librarianship also contributes to tenure consideration.
Three pieces of evidence can be offered in favor of or against a candidate for tenure: colleague, student, and self evaluations.
Sophomore Luc de Luca takes end of the semester course evaluations seriously.
“They are the only definite means for students to voice their opinions and concerns,” de Luca said. “If they were granted to students at the end of their course and weren’t treated with the level of openness and earnestness that they are intended to be met with, then why administer them at all?”
Jillian Tullis, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of communication studies. Tullis has taught at USD for two years and was previously tenure track at the University of North Carolina.
“Although I am new to USD, I brought three years of service with me, which means I’m in the middle of the tenure schedule,” Tullis said. “I guess a good analogy is that I’m kind of like a transfer student. I’m bringing some of the work I did while I was at University of North Carolina at Charlotte with me to USD. I’m sort of like a junior and will be a graduating senior next year, if that makes sense. So next year, I will apply for tenure.”
Tullis noted that the evaluation portion of the tenure process can be stressful.
“There is a lot at stake, and most professors want to do well in all they do,” Tullis said. “Imagine if your classmates got to decide some of your fate, whether or not you get to graduate or not. Even if you do well in your classes, you still have to have your peers affirm your work.”
Brad Melekian is an assistant professor in his second year of the tenure track. He spent seven years as an adjunct professor at USD before starting the path to tenure. Melekian commented on the importance of review in academia.
“Generally, the idea of review is a good thing if you’re going to give someone a job for life,” Melekian said. “In comparison to the private sector, it can seem sort of archaic as a review process, but I think it’s good.”
Melekian said he thinks that tenure evaluations are also a great opportunity for professors to evaluate themselves and improve their teaching styles.
“I can personally choose to take it one of two ways,” Melekian said. “I can choose to think about it as ‘I’m being judged,’ or I can look at it that every two years I’m given the opportunity to reflect on my work, what I’m doing well, and what my shortcomings are in a genuine and holistic self-evaluation.”
Tenure is considered an important status in universities across the nation. The American Association of University Professors explains that tenure is meant to safeguard academic freedom so that university faculty cannot lose their jobs because of their speech, publications, or opinions.
Tullis shared that she believes tenure is more than a lifelong job offer.
“Tenure isn’t just about having a job for life,” Tullis said. “Its real value is that it increases a faculty person’s academic freedom. It allows them the protection to push the boundaries of their field.”
Melekian agreed, saying that tenure provides an emphatic vote of support from the university.
“In a pragmatic sense, tenure is job security,” Melekian said. “But I think in terms of the university, I try to live really holistically, and USD is a huge part of my life and always has been. Tenure is sort of that stamp of approval from the university saying ‘We’re backing the work that you do, we support you, we give you full academic freedom to do the things that you do scholastically, we’ve vetted you, and we want you here.’ That goes a long way.”
Sarah Brewington, Associate Editor
Kelly Kennedy, Feature Editor