On February 8, the Board of Trustees voted to advance four Bowdoin faculty members to the rank of tenured professor, effective July 1. The four appointees are Sarah Conly of the philosophy department, Mark Foster of the English department, Doris Santoro of the education department and Jill Smith of the German department.
Forty-eight percent of Bowdoin’s faculty is tenured. These individuals have been promoted from “assistant professor”—the title that comes precedes tenure—to “associate professor,” or have attained full professorships.
Every member of the philosophy, German and education departments is tenured now that Professors Conly, Smith and Santoro have received the promotion.
The College is looking to fill 10 tenure track positions next fall.
Each of the faculty members who received tenure this year was hired for a “tenure-track” position. Distinct from a visiting professorship or a temporary leave replacement, a “tenure-track” position is meant for a scholar that wants to progress through the professorship ranks at the College. Bowdoin faculty members typically go up for tenure during their sixth year at the College. However, because Bowdoin offers junior members sabbatical in their fourth year, many professors delay the tenure process for a year.
To receive tenure, Bowdoin faculty must show “excellence in teaching and distinction in research.” This entails many steps. Professors who are planning to stand for tenure receive their first level of review from tenured members of their own department. If recommended, their cases are reviewed by the committee on appointments, promotions and renure. Then, Cristle Collins Judd, dean for academic affairs, sits with the committee and decides if a tenure recommendation will be made to President Barry Mills. If Mills approves the case, it will be brought before the full Board of Trustees.
Each of the four faculty members who received tenure indicated that they were relieved the process was over and that they were looking forward to the possibilities and security that tenure brings.
“I’m happy but also relieved that I’ve made it through this arduous process,” said Foster.
Smith echoed his sentiments: “It’s a rigorous process, I have to say, but very fair and very clear.”
The many recommendations and reviews Bowdoin’s process demands help ensure that faculty members who finally do receive tenure are more than fit for the job.
“The reason that our process for granting tenure is as thorough as it is because the awarding of tenure confers extraordinary privilege with which comes responsibility,” said Judd.
While much emphasis is placed on the quality of teaching during the tenure review process, significant weight is placed on the research of the professor. Foster, Santoro and Smith all spent their sabbaticals working on books. Santoro took her time to write a “foundational article” to help conceptualize and ground her research.
Foster said that the time off was “indispensable” to further his work.
This presentation of scholarship played the main role in the dossiers of the professors’ work sent to outside reviewers who Bowdoin enlists to help in the evaluation procedure. The importance placed in the research of a professor standing for tenure is meant to ensure that Bowdoin’s teachers are active in their fields.
“I think a good school wants people who are good researchers,” said Conly. “If you are a good researcher, it means that you are engaged in the profession; it means you’re thinking. You’re teaching about things you’re still thinking about.”
The tenure system was put in place in colleges in the 19th and 20th centuries for different reasons, but one of the most important ones was to safeguard faculty who might have held politically unpopular or provocative views—to give them the freedom to express their opinions.
“There are projects that I would like to work on that might be a little provocative and I feel like I can do so without any anxiety about how they might be received because I’ve achieved this milestone here,” Professor Foster said.
For now, the newly-tenured faculty members are happy to call Bowdoin their academic home for the foreseeable future.
“It’s definitely a milestone being recognized as a scholar and being welcomed formally and permanently into the Bowdoin community.”