Except for snippets of conversation from those occasional end-of-semester dinner parties at professors’ houses, the details of what it means to be a professor outside of the classroom are generally hidden from students. The faculty are expected to meet high standards not only in teaching, but also in engagement and participation in their fields and in service to the College.
Hiring process for tenure-track faculty
When Associate Professor of History Page Herrlinger first visited campus as a prospective hire, she almost underestimated the Maine weather.
“I remember being really nervous the night before my visit and getting a phone call from a professor who told me to make sure to wear boots on my visit,” said Herrlinger. “I remember feeling a little uncomfortable about wearing boots but when I got to campus and Maine winter was well underway I just felt like someone here was looking out for me, which made the visit a lot easier.”
Her journey ended when she joined the Bowdoin faculty in 1998, completing a rigorous tenure-track faculty hiring process which lasts, on average, around 18 months.
“The tenure-track process is a place where as we hire someone, we’re saying, ‘Bowdoin has these really high standards and we want you to meet those standards,’” said Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd.
According to Judd, the hiring process begins when a department or program makes a request to the Committee on Curriculum and Educational Policy.
“As part of that, the program has already looked to understand where the discipline is going, to understand the kind of search that might be involved and how to create as large a pool of candidates as possible,” said Judd.
At this point, hiring committees begin to form to address the positions in question. The corresponding department or program has the most responsibility in hiring for positions, but the committees also include faculty from different academic fields.
Once a list of candidates has been assembled, the process continues through various stages. At first, the committee compiles a “long list” of around 20 potential candidates to interview via phone or Skype.
From this list, the pool is narrowed down to 3 to 4 candidates who are invited to campus to give a talk on their research and meet with students, faculty, the hiring committee and the dean for academic affairs, as well as the president of the College.
“Can they be successful in the kind of research they want to do here and can they be successful in our classrooms—these are the questions we’re asking,” said Judd.
Part of attracting candidates that will do well at a liberal arts institution is incentivizing the opportunity to work at Bowdoin in various ways. One of these incentives is Bowdoin’s Partner Accommodation Policy, which makes it easier for professors with partners and/or families to come work at the College.
Bowdoin is not in a major urban center, and there are fewer institutions of higher learning close by for partners of existing faculty members to turn to while looking for a job.
The Partner Accommodation Policy was instituted in 2007 to create opportunities for couples in which both partners are employed in academia.
Partners of existing faculty can apply for a position through the Partner Accommodation Policy and if they are accepted, the partners share one-and-a-half teaching appointments.
This means that in an academic year, the two partners will teach a combined six classes as opposed to the typical eight. If both are in the same department, each will teach three classes over the course of the academic year. However, if the partners are in different departments, the original faculty member will teach the standard four classes while the partner hired under the policy will teach two.
“It’s a creative way to deal with a problem that a lot of institutions have,” said David Hecht, assistant professor of history. Hecht is married to Associate Professor of English Aviva Briefel, and was hired under the policy in 2009 after being at Bowdoin as a visiting faculty member for several years. Hecht and Briefel live with their two young children in Brunswick.
The policy also enables the College to retain faculty members who might otherwise consider leaving because of family commitments.
“If I’m working here, then Aviva is more likely to stay,” said Hecht.
After a professor’s first year at Bowdoin, she is reviewed by her department chair and another member of her department, the first standardized step in the tenure-seeking process.
The next, more comprehensive stage of review is reappointment, during a professor’s third year. Professors must turn in a self-evaluative statement as well as course materials to their departmental review committees. The committee will then offer a recommendation to the Office of the Dean for Academic Affairs, which makes the final decision on whether the professor is reappointed.
“They’re evaluated primarily on their teaching when they go up for renewal after three years,” said Associate Professor of History Dallas Denery.
Physics professor Mark Battle agreed that reappointment is an opportunity for a department to ensure that “things are on track” in a professor’s career. The process also ensures that faculty members are ready to take the typical fourth year sabbatical, during which they are expected to make significant strides in their research or professional work.
During a faculty member’s fifth year at Bowdoin, she begins the multi-stage tenure process, which involves many more levels of review. A professor’s department, the Committee on Appointments, Promotion and Tenure (CAPT), and reviewers outside the College are all involved in evaluating the candidate and making a recommendation. The dean for academic affairs and the President of the College use this information to make recommendations of their own, and the Board of Trustees then makes the final decision on tenure.
According to Judd, these reviews aim to explain and contextualize the “significance of a person’s work within their discipline.”
A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Music Mary Hunter—currently serving on CAPT—agreed that “the department has to make it clear to the College committee what the field competition is like.”
Research expectations for getting tenure vary across departments, and can be anything from a book to a series of scholarly publications. Allen Wells, a history professor, noted that “a book is the coin of the realm” in his department. Although it’s possible to get tenure without a published book, he emphasized that it is the standard toward which most history professors work.
Outside reviewers are especially important in departments such as music or art, in which professors may be producing work other than traditional scholarly publications.
For example, Associate Professor of Music Vineet Shende is a composer, and thus part of his tenure evaluation was based on pieces he composed. However, he emphasized that having a piece performed by the national symphony, for example, was analogous to having a book published by Oxford University Press—in other words, that recognition by prestigious institutions can be understood across all departments.
The role of CAPT, on the other hand, is to act as a more objective body. Battle, who has been a member of CAPT, emphasized that he “works hard to abide by the language of the College’s contract” when evaluating candidates up for tenure.
The number of professors who are accepted for tenure each year is generally high. Battle attributed this in part to the “self-selection effect”—professors are generally made aware of whether or not they are likely candidates for tenure before they come up to receive it.
After achieving tenure and being promoted from assistant to associate professor, it would be theoretically possible for professors to slow their efforts at teaching and research. One safeguard against this is the yearly Professional Activities statements that tenured professors submit to Academic Affairs, describing their activities within and beyond the College as part of the basis on which salary increases are awarded. In addition, associate professors generally continue to work to be promoted to full professor, a title which also brings a salary increase.
More generally, Judd pointed out that working toward tenure sets the stage for continued hard work after promotion.
Shende agreed, noting that tenure “solidifies your relationship with the institution.”
Next week: A look at the lives of visiting professors and post-docs, and expectations for faculty balancing teaching, research and service at the College.