When Laila Shetty, Barnard's Student Governing Board President, announced a town hall meeting in February, the room was packed. Students wanted to know why their favorite teachers are leaving, why the percentage of faculty with tenure is so low, and why Barnard's tenured faculty is virtually all white and predominantly male.
What the students got was an information session hosted by Barnard's administration. President Judith Shapiro opened the meeting, Provost Elizabeth Boylan explained the tenure process, and history professor and former Dean of the Faculty Robert McCaughey spoke about his research on Barnard tenure. Several members from the board that evaluates Barnard tenure cases, known as the Appointments, Tenure and Promotion Committee (ATP), were also present. Missing, however, were representatives from the newly formed committee to review Barnard's tenure process. Committee member Natalie Kampen from Women's Studies was scheduled to speak but canceled two weeks prior to the event due to scheduling; no one from the new committee was invited to replace her.
Tenure is an age-old institution that provides professors with lifetime appointments at their college or university. Traditionally, it permits these faculty members intellectual freedom of expression.
The process leading up to tenure approval has been critiqued on a national level for being archaic and emotionally trying.
At Barnard, critics of the process say that there are additional obstacles to tenure. They argue that its two-year review (as opposed to one at most institutions) and two-tier process, with Columbia as the final arbiter, have instilled in Barnard what English Department Chair William Sharpe called "a crisis of morale."
The two-tier, two-year process involves a series of reviews, first at Barnard, and then at Columbia. The second review step is unique to Barnard.
After gaining departmental approval at Barnard and Columbia, the candidate must be evaluated by the ATP. If the ATP ratifies the candidate and Barnard's President approves, the candidate's dossier moves across the street, where an Ad Hoc committee made up of five senior faculty--two from Barnard, two from Columbia, and one expert from outside the University--evaluate the candidate's file.
The Columbia Provost can overturn the Ad Hoc committee decision or pass affirmative cases on to the Columbia President and the Columbia Board of Trustees, who make the final decision on all Barnard tenure appointments.
"Even at Barnard, it is not clear that what we do will be evaluated by a committee that is thinking about our needs rather than Columbia," Sharpe said.
Because of its unique position as an independent affiliate of Columbia University, Barnard is the only institution in the nation that does not have the final say in its tenure process.
In the past six years, faculty have pointed to the Columbia-centered process as the cause of the decrease in numbers of tenured female faculty, the low overall tenure rate, and the increased emphasis on research, which some say has diluted Barnard's academic culture.
At the town hall meeting, Boylan and Shapiro agreed that the Barnard tenure process has problems, but they pointed to changes implemented on the Barnard side to improve the process. In the past six years, the administration has responded to tenure woes by slowing the tenure clock, providing parental leave to professors and up to two years off teaching for research. In 1999, the Barnard Faculty Planning Committee loosened the restrictions on who is considered for tenure: now, nearly all assistant professors become candidates.
Junior faculty members said the administration has committed to explaining the process to incoming faculty. Shapiro, too, has verbalized her commitment to increasing transparency. In an April 2002 memorandum entitled "[r]eflections on tenure," she wrote to political science professor Richard Pious that she sees the "need to mentor junior faculty effectively, and to be as clear as possible about the expectations for tenure." Pious was then chair of the FGP.
But critics have said that changes on this level are not enough. If Barnard stays on its current track to become a research institution, the nature of the College will change dramatically.
"That's okay if we want the kind of professor who can easily get tenure at Columbia," said a junior faculty member. "But then it's hard to say that teaching is central to teaching at Barnard. There's only so much time in a day."
How the administration feels about the process is unclear--Shapiro's memo to Pious suggests her ambivalence toward the process. In an interview last night, Shapiro defended her position, saying that while she sees areas that should be addressed, she is supportive of the process.
"I think there are things there to be examined," she said, though she would not specifically name these focus areas. And regarding Columbia's final say on the tenure process, she repeated several times, "I certainly don't feel disempowered."
Shapiro said the administration is looking for ways to increase the percentage of faculty tenured. "We're trying to explore ... the way we appoint more at the junior level," she said.
"There are serious problems with the system," said tenured history Professor Joel Kaye, the elected acting chair of the Tenure Review Process, a group recognized by Barnard's Provost's office.
Ten elected members of senior, junior, and off-ladder faculty make up the committee, which came out of the Women's Faculty Caucus in the spring of last year.
"There was a strong sense among faculty that there needed to be an official committee to investigate the process," said Kaye, who is openly critical of the process. He added that he can see the value of Barnard's relationship to Columbia.
The committee has held faculty meetings and distributed surveys to inform a report on Barnard's tenure process, due out this fall.
Columbia hasn't always had the final word. In 1973, spurred by the political upheavals of 1968, Columbia and Barnard Trustees negotiated a new agreement wherein Barnard obtained library access, and its faculty earned a Columbia title. In exchange, Columbia got approval rights on all Barnard tenure candidates to achieve what Jonathan Cole called "an equal standard of excellence across the University."
"The junior faculty have always been freaked out about tenure," said Pious, who contended that at Barnard, certain trends merit concern.
Tenure angst is not unique to Barnard--junior faculty across the world of higher education view it as a looming monster, and it has even been abolished at certain universities. At Barnard, many refused to discuss the issue, even off the record, from fear of being identified and penalized (either at Barnard or another institution) for criticizing the process.
According to junior faculty, part of the problem is that they don't know what is expected of them.
At the town hall meeting, McCaughey said all tenure committees look for published material as a measure of a professor's scholarship. In a Feb. 19 e-mail message, he explained further.
"Tenure is an issue on all liberal arts college campuses, where faculty who are well-liked by students as teachers fail to satisfy the scholarly standards of their senior colleagues or the external reviewers asked to comment on the assistant professor's scholarly prospects," he wrote.
He added that tenure is more complex at Barnard, "with the Columbia process following the Barnard one."
Several members of the junior faculty, all of whom wished to remain anonymous, cited the tenure rejection of religion professor Judith Weisenfeld--who was denied at the Columbia Ad Hoc level in 1998--as the major turning point in how the faculty view the tenure process.
"At that point, we started questioning, if not Judith, then who?" said a junior faculty member. She said that during her career at Barnard, she has seen what she called surprising tenure rejections.
Lynn Chancer from sociology was rejected in 1999 and is now at Fordham. Also in 1999 came the rejection of Angela Zito from religion who is the director of Religious Studies at NYU and was recently awarded a nearly $2 million grant from the Pew Foundation. Paula Loscoco from English left Barnard last year and now teaches at Sarah Lawrence. Finally Weisenfeld, now tenured at Vassar where she chairs the Religion Department and heads the Pan-African Studies Program.
In March 2002, an offshoot committee of concerned professors produced a working paper entitled, "How the Current Dual Tenure Process is Harming Barnard College." The paper opens with a passage from Barnard's mission statement, which reads, "As a college for women, Barnard embraces its responsibility to address issues of gender in all of their complexity and urgency."
The paper questions this statement: "[I]nherent problems in the current tenure process impede the realization of these aspirations." It cites Barnard's comparatively low percentage of tenured faculty, which has decreased from 56.6 percent in 1980 to 48 percent in 2000.
Sharpe blames the "double jeopardy effect" of the two-tier tenure system for the low percentage of tenured faculty.
Each tier represents a different set of standards: while both value scholarship, one emphasizes teaching and the other research. One junior faculty member complained that the expected level of teaching constrains their ability to perform research to meet Columbia's standards while also teaching more courses than Columbia professors to meet the Barnard requirements.
"Most places benefit from having an outside person, but to have a committee that has two-thirds of the committee being outsiders and of course, the provost of Columbia who has nothing to do with Barnard faculty, is extreme," one junior faculty member said.
Barnard's tenure approval is low by design. In 1984, the Barnard Trustees directed the administration to limit the percentage of tenured faculty to 60 percent, and preferably under 50 percent.
While many other colleges tenure more of their faculty--80.8 percent at Oberlin, for example, and 72.6 percent at Swarthmore--Barnard does not intend to catch up to its peers. Columbia tenures 67 percent of its faculty, but most of these are outside hires, senior faculty recruited with the promise of tenure.
At the town hall meeting, McCaughey joked lightheartedly about the high turnover rate when he defended the process. "A low turnover rate is worse than a high one," he said, because it maintains a young and enthusiastic faculty.
In the memo to Pious, Shapiro wrote, "While we will certainly move toward increasing our tenure ratio, I believe it will continue to be lower than those of our peers. Their's is too high."
The Increased Burden
The heart of the March 2002 working paper hits Barnard's prized trait: its strong campus community. The paper said that the increased pressure on junior faculty to research hurts the quality of teaching and advising, which in turn sours the undergraduate experience.
The paper reads, "Some senior faculty and even the provost's office have made it clear that, although teaching is important, research should take top priority at the junior level, at a time when most faculty must devote tremendous energy in learning how to teach and in developing new courses."
Additionally, Barnard professors teach more courses than Columbia professors--faculty in the humanities teach five courses over the academic year, whereas Columbia professors in similar disciplines teach four. This heavier teaching load in turn distracts from the research required by Columbia.
Over the past decade, Columbia's undergraduate population has increased by 800 students due to the Enlargement and Enhancement plan, and Barnard faculty said they have felt the pressure.
A former Barnard professor who wished to remain anonymous said, "Barnard faculty carry that burden. The effect of all of this? Barnard professors are teaching more students per year and they function as the teaching staff of the University. [Columbia] can count on a pool of 50 percent of rotating faculty to teach the undergraduates."
Whether the class load and additional students puts Barnard faculty at a disadvantage is debatable. Columbia Provost Jonathan Cole said he instructs the Columbia Ad Hoc committee to examine "quality, not quantity" of the candidate's research.
Furthermore, Cole said, Barnard benefits from being attached to a research institution and that Barnard has better faculty than other women's colleges.
"It's a double-edged sword," he said. "Without the Ad Hoc process, Barnard would not have as good a faculty as it does."
He added, however, that "there is some loss in Barnard's autonomy."
But most of the junior faculty interviewed said Columbia's involvement in the process compromises the less traditional research Barnard mentions in its mission statement. Columbia is known for being a hub for classical academe, and critics said that queer, interdisciplinary, women's, and Pan-African Studies professors may be at a disadvantage in the face of a Columbia Ad Hoc.
"If you put the decision in the hands of another institution, even if they're well-disposed toward Barnard, there's no way they could have the depth of knowledge, what it is they expect, what it is people have done before," a junior faculty member said.
The Gender Gap
It was around the time of Weisenfeld's tenure rejection that Laura Kay, chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department, joined with a junior faculty member to compile statistics on tenure rates of men and women, junior and senior faculty at Barnard.
MIT had a done a similar report, specifically on women scientists, and Kay followed their lead, opening old catalogs for data.
"I wanted real numbers," she said.
The statistics, which were later verified by the Provost's office, show that the percentage of full time faculty who are female at Barnard has decreased from 55 percent in 1980 to 37 percent in 2001.
Additionally, between 1989 to 2001, 53 percent of departmentally submitted tenure cases for junior women were successful, compared to 72 percent for junior men.
"The tenure rate for entering faculty is low," Kay said, "but it's lower for women."
Professor Joel Kaye offered an explanation.
"In judgments about tenure there seems to be less of an appreciation for research on gender and interdisciplinary research," he said, adding that those areas are more often favored by women scholars.
At the town hall meeting on tenure, President Shapiro and Provost Boylan noted the gender gap between male and female faculty. Boylan noted that Barnard slowed the tenure clock for maternity leave. Shapiro attributed the disparity to the increasing acceptance of female faculty into larger research institutions.
In an e-mail message, she elaborated. "Before many of the most important and prestigious academic institutions in our society opened their doors to women, women's colleges enjoyed something of a monopoly on women of high accomplishment, as both students and faculty. ... Women's colleges face more competition in recruiting and retaining women faculty ... especially if previously male-dominated institutions ... seek to recruit first-rate women teacher-scholars in order to improve the gender balance of their faculty."
Kay agreed with Shapiro's analysis but felt it was insufficient.
"It also says that we're not promoting [women] as fast as they're retiring," she said. "In the years that I've been here, when we say goodbye to faculty, we say goodbye mostly to women."
"I don't know what to make of the distressing figure about women," Shapiro said. "There is the burden of family and maternity that falls on women. I don't know all the reasons."
As for faculty of color, Kay said, "There are not enough minorities to produce numbers on that."
It won't be until next fall that the committee releases their report to the administration.
Shapiro has successfully thawed the tension that once divided Barnard and Columbia. Now enter President Lee Bollinger and recently-appointed Provost Alan Brinkley, two individuals known for being more progressive than their predecessors, and Columbia may assume a new outlook.
"It's a propitious moment for change," Sharpe said.