Tenure awarded, but process generates apprehension in some

On Friday, March 28, Trinity University announced nine assistant professors who were promoted to associate professor and awarded tenure, one associate professor was granted tenure and eight faculty members were promoted to full professor.

According to Michael Fischer, vice president for faculty and student affairs and chair of the promotion and tenure commission, faculty members who are promoted or considered for tenure are expected to demonstrate excellence in teaching, research and university service. The review usually begins in each department with recommendations from tenured faculty members.

“[After receiving recommendations] the candidate’s case is then reviewed by the promotion and tenure commission,” Fischer said in an email. “Teaching is primarily assessed by reviewing course materials and student evaluations. Excellence in research is demonstrated in part by candidates’ publishing their work in rigorously peer-reviewed outlets. We also send samples of a candidate’s work to experts at other universities and ask them to comment on its quality.”

According to Fischer, the faculty and tenure commission is composed of seven elected faculty members from a variety of disciplines.

“The commission makes makes a recommendation; then the vice president for faculty and student affairs makes a recommendation; and then the president makes the final decision,” Fischer said in email.

The commission makes recommendations for each level of promotion or granting tenure based on these recommendations and the materials included in each candidate’s “box,” composed of teaching materials, research, published work and other resources.

While the majority of promotions to associate professor occur at a faculty’s sixth year, exceptions do occur, such as with Maria Paganelli, who was recently promoted to associate professor of economics and awarded tenure.

“I taught before so they recognized the fact that I came with experience, and they packed my previous year experience in my tenure clock, so rather than having a six year clock I had a four year clock,” Paganelli said. “The process was easy in a sense and painful in a sense. You are putting yourself in the hands of others and being judged by others, so there’s always anxiety if everything is okay… On the other hand, you are not alone. Everybody is willing to help.”

Aside from anxiety, faculty members interviewed did not have critiques of the promotion and tenure process, even those who had been through it at another institution, such as Aaron Navarro, associate professor of history and director of the Mexico, the Americas and Spain (MAS) Program who was recently granted tenure.

“I gave up tenure [at the University of North Texas] to come to Trinity because I am from San Antonio, because of the MAS program that existed and because of the students,” Navarro said. “Basically every year you get feedback on how your year has gone, if you’ve published or not published, if you’re teaching evaluations are good or not so good, you sort of know along the way what you have to work on. Compared to my previous institution, it was much clearer here what exactly we had to do.”

According to Fischer, this process of evaluation and compilation of work is a vital step in determining tenure.

“Awarding a professor tenure is one of the most important decisions a university can make, which is why we make sure that our review process is thorough and careful,” Fischer said.

Navarro was the only faculty member in this group of promotions who was granted tenure independently of position because he had already gained the title of associate professor.

“Tenure is even better the second time around. It’s freeing,” Navarro said. “It’s also an opportunity to then think about longer term process. As a non-tenured assistant professor, the pressure really is that you have a deadline for that project, which is your tenure date. So after tenure then you can start thinking about larger questions, bigger projects in the field that wouldn’t have been possible while you are on the tenure clock. In that sense, it’s very liberating, because you have time to think big thoughts.”

According to Amer Kaissi, who was recently promoted to full professor in the department of healthcare administration, once a faculty member becomes an associate professor with tenure, there is a five year gap before full-professorship can be obtained.

“In terms of the process I think Trinity does a very good job of preparing you for this major milestone,” Kaissi said. “Unlike some other universities, Trinity will force you to go through a yearly process which alternates between formal review and informal review. [It] prepares you for those big events and forces you every year to prepare a mini file – not the full box – in which you put the things you’ve done that year, and your chair assesses your progress. You know early enough in the process so you do not have to wait for the promotion process to know whether you are good or not.”

According to Kaissi, once promoted to full professor, there are many routes for a faculty member’s career, whether it’s preparing to become part of the administration or trying new techniques in the classroom.

“The promotion is a recognition, that you know that your work is appreciated and what you’re doing is good. In terms of the day to day things, it’s not going to change much. I am definitely planning to stay productive as a researcher, to keep teaching my courses in a way that students benefit from and to stay a good citizen of the university and the community, because that’s very important,” Kaissi said. “Everyone is serious in their career, it’s just that the pressure is not there anymore, so you can be a little more comfortable in your skin and try new things.”

Promoted to associate professor and awarded tenure: Courtney Crim, Kyle Gilette, Jessica Halonen, Lawrence Kim, Kenneth Loiselle, Debra Ochoa, Maria Pia Paginelli, Michael Schreyach and Chad Sigel. Associate professor granted tenure: Aaron Navarro. Promoted to full professor: Laura Allen, Angela Breidenstein, Jane Childers, Jennifer Henderson, Amer Kaissi, Pete Kelly-Zion, Mark Lewis and Adam Urbach.