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An in-depth look at the College’s tenure process

March 4, 2022

Sophie Burchell

On the weekend of February 10, the Board of Trustees officially promoted nine faculty members from assistant to associate professors, which grants them tenure at the College. The shift goes into effect on July 1, 2022.

“Tenure originated with this idea that that faculty needed to have some insulation from the political whims of the world and from changes in attitudes of the people who run the institutions where they work,” Assistant Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Cinema Studies Allison Cooper, a member of the cohort of professors newly granted tenure, said. “So basically, it’s a sort of guarantee of freedom of thought and speech. And that’s really what the heart of tenure is, and it’s a very noble thing. Ideally, it means that as a scholar, you’ve earned the right to voice your opinion without fear of repercussions. Bowdoin has always seemed like a place that is pretty welcoming [to] a lot of different ideas and allows people to express their opinions.”

The College handbook details why tenure exists, describing it as a “safeguard to academic freedom [that] may be terminated only for reasons of gross neglect of duty, serious misconduct, or physical or mental incapacity … Tenure decisions are based upon an evaluation of teaching, scholarly, or artistic engagement and contributions to the College community.”

The process for tenure for these faculty members began when they were hired as assistant professors on the tenure track. Prospective professors are offered an appointment for an academic year on July 1 of each year and are then given a four-year contract. In the third year, professors go up for a process of reappointment and are then given a “junior lead,” or sabbatical. During their sabbatical, professors enter a period of paid leave to study, research or travel, among other things.

“We try to hire really fantastic people. And so, our expectation when we hire people is that yes, they will be people who will eventually be able to get tenure, and we will support them along the way and they will work hard along the way,” Senior Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs and John S. Osterweis Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Jennifer Scanlon said.

The process for the most recent tenure cohort’s review began roughly a year ago.

A member of faculty going up for tenure is typically supported by members of their department who later conduct their review of the professor.

“Because I had such strong mentoring support around, I felt that [the path to tenure] was very structured and supportive throughout. I think I’m really fortunate to be in a department and program in which [I] felt supported,” Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Kana Takematsu said.

Takematsu also received tenure at the February meeting.

Due to the College’s co-governance—the policy stating that both faculty and administration have equal say in running the affairs of the College—the faculty Committee on Appointment, Promotions and Tenure (CAPT) reviews the faculty member after a departmental review of the candidate.

CAPT is composed of five professors elected to a three-year term by their colleagues. Scanlon sits on the committee ex officio in her capacity as Dean of Academic Affairs.

Each candidate provides a packet of their professional work, typically ranging from 600 to 1,200 pages, for the committee to review and make a decision.

“All the candidates are asked for the same type of material and then, depending on their field and specialty, there’ll be some variation. Some people are writing books and some people are writing articles, but they’ll upload their entire research portfolio, all of their BCQs, a thorough sample of their teaching materials and syllabi,” Professor of Government Laura Henry, former chair and current member of CAPT, said.

“Some tests, assignments, syllabi and all the BCQs are uploaded, and that’s where at least some of that many pages comes from. Retrospective letters from students are solicited, [as well as] evaluations from scholars at other institutions who are in their fields [and] colleagues at Bowdoin … Their home department or program reviews everything and writes a big assessment themselves and finally, their personal evaluation,” Professor of Biology and Neuroscience and current chair of CAPT Hadley Horch said.

The committee takes ample time to thoroughly review much of the candidate’s material and come to a consensus backed by the evidence they found in each candidate file. They had a standing meeting time last semester from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, while in November and December of last year, they added an additional twenty hours to meet and discuss the candidates for tenure.

“We make a recommendation to the dean after our conversation. The dean comes to her own decision, [and] our recommendation is [taken in]to account. And then everything that she’s read in the record, and then she makes a recommendation to the President and then the President does the same. [The President then] makes a recommendation to the trustees,” Horch said.

“Every person I’ve ever served with on this committee has taken it so seriously. I think that people really bring a deep sense of intention and a real awareness of the desire to do really good work,” Henry said. That’s one of the best things about the committee, I think, the collegial experience of it is just really, really encouraging and beautiful.”

Prospective tenured professors are subject to rigorous standards of excellence in teaching, academic or artistic engagement, as well as their contributions to the College. Additionally, participants are reviewed by members in their guild or subfield at other institutions to judge their contributions to the field.

“So, what the College I think has been mindful of, which is really important, is that they need to support people. If you’re going to ask people to do all those things, you need to support them. Now, we have a fully paid Junior research leave, right so people have that year to really focus on their research. So, there’s mentorship and pedagogical advice coming through the Bowdoin for the Baldwin center for Learning and Teaching,” Henry said. “I think that’s a big part of it is if you’re going to have high standards, you really just need to offer that kind of support.”

Cooper, who serves on the Faculty Governance Committee, had a particularly exciting experience during her tenure review process. Since she serves as the liaison to the board of trustees, she attended the meeting in which the board discussed her tenure.

“I was actually in the Zoom meeting two weeks ago when they voted and made it official, but they made me leave in a break out room,” Cooper said. “It was just amazing. When I came back, I was congratulated by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees and all the trustees who applauded me and said congratulations. It was really special.”


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