On the Right Track

It’s the pinnacle of professordom: After years of inattentive student audiences and pressure for results, a teacher is finally rewarded with the promise of financial security in the form of the all-powerful, all-coveted tenure. But the title has its ups and downs. Over the past few years, tenure has come under fire — in the newly released documentary “Waiting for Superman.” direc- tor Davis Guggenheim points fingers at tenure’s abil- ity to allow bad teachers to remain in positions they shouldn’t be in, which he contends will erode the quality of education. Others counter with the argu- ment that tenure provides job security in academia and allows professors to express controversial, groundbreaking views.
Tenure is a lifetime appointment, where a professor cannot be removed from his position unless he resigns or is dismissed under extraordinary (and most likely illegal) circumstances. Most recently, UCSD attracted national attention when the tenure of visual arts professor Ricardo Dominguez was threatened due to his side projects, which included building an application that aided illegal immigrants trying to cross the border, and overloading the UC website with messages about the system’s lack of
transparency.
At UCSD, the tenured pay may be cush, but getting there isn’t; the process of hiring professors is yearlong, and the tenure track could take another five years. To achieve tenure, candidates are recruited and their files reviewed by academic personnel. The Academic Senate then evaluates the files, researches the candidates and makes a recommendation to the Senior Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, who then identifies and invites approximately five candidates to come in for interviews with the entire faculty.
Once hired, assistant-level professors have eight years to start doing research, with the potential to advance to an associate professorship (tenure- track) and eventually full professorship (tenure). Tenure and tenure-track professors are funded by the state — an arrangement that offers more job security because they don’t need to depend on private grants — while all others are funded temporarily or through grants.
Professors are reviewed every one, three and five years on the basis of their research, community service and their teaching; the five-year mark is usually the first bench- mark for being considered for tenure.
In order to get tenure, “You really have to prove that you are worthy of an advance  ment,” said Jon Welch, a UCSD administrator in the Academic Personnel Office.
The tenure process evaluates professors at the department level, the division level and the university level based on the three criteria mentioned above: Have the professors published research in respected, high-profile journals with extensive readership? Do they represent the university well as a member of the campus, city, national and international communities? Does the success of their stu- dents reflect exceptional teaching?
Staff at UCSD are required to teach about three courses per year, depending on the department, but there is no predetermined number for how much or how often professors must publish.
“It’s an ongoing thing where you are teaching and doing research at the same time,” Welch said. “Research takes some time — they don’t pump out articles once a year.”
Professors must apply to organizations outside of the UC system to fund their research. The UCSD tenure track requires that all professors’ bids for grants are approved by UCSD’s Independent Review Committee.
According to UCSD’s website, the IRC — the principal advisory group to the Chancellor — reviews professors’ proposed research projects in order to “establish mechanisms to eliminate, reduce, or manage conflicts of interest, if possible and to safeguard the interests of the University and the individual principal investigator.”  Professors are prohibited from having any
significant financial interest in the compa- ny for which they are conducting research and from allow- ing their research to inhibit their work at the university — these mandates empha- size that a professor’s teaching comes first.
And compared to private schools like Yale University, UCSD’s standards for tenure are harsh. In 2007, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Yale’s tenure policy underwent revision. Before the policy revamp, tenured professors would either have to retire, leave or die for a position to open up for non-tenured faculty. Post 2007, Yale has taken a much more active role in the progression of its junior faculty’s careers. By the end of each junior faculty member’s eighth year, at the latest, he would have begun his tenure track. At fellow Ivies Princeton and Cornell, the process begins two years sooner.
Additionally, there is a notable difference in the number of faculty tenured within each department and large gaps in pay between the arts and sciences at UCSD.
According to data from the Sacramento Bee, lecturers in the fine arts department earn far less than those teaching sciences or math- ematics, a disconnect that carries over into the higher rungs of academia — associate profes- sors and professors in the sciences are paid far better than those in humanities or fine arts.
In 2004, according to the Division of Social Sciences, out of a total of 682 tenured faculty members, the number of tenured life science (biology, agriculture, etc.) professors was 49, while 67 professors in the fine art department had tenure. UCSD tenures more arts-related faculty, but pays them less than the science professors.
At UCSD, an exceptionally rigorous tenure process has made it difficult for bad professors to sneak through the cracks, but the tradeoff is that it’s harder — when compared with Ivy League schools like Yale and Princeton Universities — to attract young staff without the promise of a tenured position in the near future.

Readers can contact Zoe? Sophos at [email protected].

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