In the academic world, receiving tenure is central to professional success. Tenure is an indefinite academic appointment awarded by a university to a professor after extensive review. Tenured professors are typically only terminated if they breach the terms of their contract or commit an illegal act. This job security allows professors to pursue research even with the risk of being controversial, and fostering an environment of academic freedom.
Lewis & Clark has awarded nine faculty members tenure this past September, eight of which come from the College of Arts and Sciences. Assistant Professor of French Philippe Brand, Associate Professor of History Reiko Hillyer, Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Orchestral Activities Lance Inouye, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Jessica Kleiss, Assistant Professor of Psychology Diana Leonard, Assistant Professor of Art and Studio Head of Sculpture Jess Perlitz, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Jessica Starling and Assistant Professor of Biology Norma Velazquez-Ulloa all received tenure from CAS, while Associate Clinical Professor of Law and Staff Attorney James Saul received tenure from the LC Law School.
Since the purpose of tenure is to secure faculty members’ jobs, the process of receiving tenure is high-stakes for new professors.
“Definitely the tenure process is stressful,” Leonard said. “I actually listened to a podcast about the end of the world this past year as a sort of coping mechanism, because it puts it into perspective.”
Velazquez-Ulloa described the tenure process as akin to students’ experience at college. While students must face exams, professors have to prepare for evaluations. Moreover, according to Velazquez-Ulloa, professors spend years providing evidence that they “are a good teacher, a good researcher, and have contributed to the college.”
Associate Professor of Economics Jim Grant, a member of the Committee on Promotion and Tenure, explained these evaluations in greater depth. Professors face a developmental review every two years, until their sixth year when they face a final tenure review.
Despite this pressure, students report that these professors dedicate serious effort to teaching. Music majors Paul Moyer ’19 and Chris Clark-Johnson ’21 discussed Inouye’s commitment to ensuring students understand material.
“(Inouye) takes care to meet students where they are,” Moyer said.
Clark-Johnson also attested to Inouye’s good reputation as a conductor.
“I’ve heard a lot of stories of people working with him, and the first time they work with him he’ll show up to a performance and have the piece that they are doing memorized, which is really unusual for a conductor,” Clark-Johnson said.
Throughout the tenure process, professors require mentorship. The college assigns tenured faculty to mentorship roles and requires tenure-cohort meetings throughout a new professor’s first year.
“The effort that the college puts into faculty development now is so much better than the effort the college put into faculty development 30 years ago,” Grant said.
Improving the tenure process for professors is an ongoing process for LC administration. Velazquez-Ulloa elaborated on a recent change to the process.
“The administration has recognized a need for an internal mentor that’s officially assigned to you, that didn’t exist during my process,” Velazquez-Ulloa said. “So the Dean’s office assigned me a mentor, but not from my department so they were useful for teaching and service, but not in terms of feedback for me for my research just because they’re from another department.”
Progress has not only been made in the tenure process, but in the college’s commitment to faculty diversity as well. While current LC faculty is 78.9 percent white, four of the nine professors who received tenure this past year are people of color.
Velazquez-Ulloa commented on the impact of increasing faculty diversity.
“There have been more initiatives that I just think didn’t exist before because there weren’t any numbers of faculty of color … because of these opportunities I’ve had the ability to meet more people that are diverse,” Velazquez-Ulloa said. “That counts, even if I don’t see them every day, knowing that they exist out there in some other building is nice to have. So I’ve definitely noticed improvements in my time here.”
Yet, Leonard cautions against using “one static data point” as evidence of a trend when discussing the comparatively more diverse cohort of tenured professors.
“It’s really important that efforts to diversify the faculty are consistent, because if she (Velazquez-Ulloa) wasn’t here or a couple of other people weren’t here, I think it would have been a lot more difficult for me to feel that I belong or that I have somebody who truly understands what I’m experiencing,” Leonard said.
Velazquez-Ulloa echoed her, noting that the goal for the college is not simply to increase hires of faculty of color, but to retain them. She remembered asking herself after LC’s initial push to hire more faculty of color, “Is this going to be something where they can hire people of color and they can keep us or not?”
Written by Nadia Spira.