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This semester will see significant changes in how Columbia reviews applications for tenure, the result of several years' work toward what supporters call a fairer and less costly tenure system. The new system does away with the long-standing process of forming a special committee for each case, a system that was nearly unique among major universities. The final review of a professor's tenure application will now be conducted by a permanent 13-member committee known as the Tenure Review Advisory Committee, composed of faculty members from many fields—increasing efficiency but reducing the specialized nature of the process. "It's easier with a single committee to maintain the same level of standards across the University," Interim Provost John Coatsworth said. "And it's much more efficient and less costly." The tenure overhaul was worked on extensively by Coatsworth's predecessor, Claude Steele, who resigned in June to become the dean of Stanford's School of Education. Under the new system, the provost is still charged with reviewing the committee's recommendation and then making a recommendation to the president and the trustees, who have the final say. But the new process is a significant increase in efficiency in the functioning of one of the most symbolic institutions of a university. The new system eliminates the significant amounts of time that had been put into creating each ad hoc committee, which needed to include at least two representatives from outside the University. A review by one of those committees had been the last step of the process for all schools except the Law School and Teachers College. "You can imagine how much time was spent arranging air transportation and hotels," Coatsworth said. Astronomy professor and University Senator Jim Applegate agreed that in terms of efficiency, the new system is a big improvement over the old. "Department chairs say, 'Hey, we're going to hire the next Nobel laureate, but you've got to move quickly.' 'How's nine months from now?' It's not quickly." 'NO ONE'S CLAIMING IT'S AS INTELLECTUAL' The old ad hoc system did enjoy considerable support among the faculty, and at least some were disappointed to see it go. Italian professor Teodolinda Barolini, a member of the A&S faculty governance committee, praised the intellectual rigor of the ad hoc review system, which allowed each committee to include several experts from the field of the candidate being evaluated. "Many faculty liked the original system ... which was labor intensive, and a signature of Columbia's, as much as the Core is a signature for the students. It was a signature for the faculty," Barolini said. "There are virtues to the old system, and the virtues are intellectual ones," she added. "The virtue to the new system is pragmatic. No one's claiming it's as intellectual." English professor Marianne Hirsch, who chaired the committee that drafted the new standing committee system for Steele, acknowledged that "the great advantage of the ad hocs is that the people looking at each case are proximate to the field of the candidate and have a great amount of expertise." However, she emphasized that tenure review doesn't hinge on one committee, but is "a multi-stage process." Applegate, too, praised the old ad hoc system, but said he understood the constraints in the provost's office which necessitated the new system. "I don't think any of this change came from people's widespread unhappiness with the decisions made by the ad hoc," he said. OPEN AND SHUT The changes to the tenure system are coming at a time when more professors than ever are being considered, and almost all of them are approved for tenure. According to Vice Provost for Academic Administration Stephen Rittenberg, who has worked on implementing the new system, the number of tenure cases that reach the ad hoc level each year has increased to about 90, from 50 in the the 1980s. The percentage of candidates approved by the ad hoc committees has approached 96 percent. "I would say three quarters of tenure cases are open and shut," he said. Rittenberg explained that the high approval rate is the result of more rigorous screenings conducted by departments and schools before the actual tenure review, eliminating some of the need for a thorough, specialized review. "The system was getting overloaded at the same time that the quality of the candidates was getting better," he said. But at least one faculty body, Rittenberg said, had previously delegated much of its tenure review role—the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. For years, FAS has relied largely on the University-level ad hoc committees to provide an additional, independent level of review for tenure candidates, with no secondary level of scrutiny between the department reviews and the ad hoc committee. Rittenberg called this lack of pre-ad hoc review in FAS "the main source of concern" during the design of the new tenure system. As a result, A&S has established a new Promotion and Tenure Committee to review tenure cases before they are passed on to the standing committee. The PTC, chaired by philosophy professor Christopher Peacocke, will combine a standing membership with faculty members appointed ad hoc for each individual case. Peacocke called the new committee "more nimble," but noted that there was already a committee involved in reviewing A&S tenure candidates before their submission for ad hoc approval. Barolini said that FAS responded to the provost's decision to move to a standing committee by devising its new screening process. "Once this came down from the provost as a given, we decided to make the best of it and, not only that, make a virtue of it," she said. Biology professor Robert Pollack, a co-chair of the University Senate committee which oversees tenure and a former dean of Columbia College, praised the new A&S procedure. When taken in combination with the new University-wide system, it creates "the best of both worlds," he said. FAIR AND LEGITIMATE Sociology professor Peter Bearman, the Tenure Review Advisory Committee's first chair, said that the new system adds fairness and consistency, since the same people are reviewing every candidate. "One wants a process that's transparent, that's fair, systematic, legitimate," he said. "I'm not sure I would produce a new system just to gain efficiency." Pollack also noted that the new system would allow tenure nominations to be put into a broader University context, and that it would eliminate a provost's ability to manipulate the tenure process by selecting a biased ad hoc committee. But a faculty survey, conducted for a 2005 report to then-Provost Alan Brinkley which endorsed keeping the ad hoc system, found that only 10 percent of faculty respondents favored a change to the standing committee system. Bearman argued, though, that many of those responders liked the old system because they benefited from it. He said that if he were a junior faculty member up for promotion, he would prefer the new system. "I would be much more comforted by a system that was institutionalized and transparent," he said. "The composition of the ad hocs was always a sort of arbitrary and contentious issue." henry.willson@columbiaspectator.com

tenure John Coatsworth Claude Steele
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