Keeping Tenure on Track

Mitchell Smith, Editor in Chief

Whitman professors will soon have more incentive to expand the kinds of work they do around the school. Late last semester, the College’s faculty voted on and passed a series of modifications to the tenure evaluation language in the Faculty Code, language which is used to judge prior faculty achievements when a faculty member applies for tenure.

Among many modifications, the new language encourages faculty to publish research in interdisciplinary journals and emphasizes the importance of work the faculty members do to promote inclusion and diversity on Whitman’s campus.

“It took a year and a half, but we wanted to be specific to Whitman and what Whitman values,” Associate Professor of English and General Studies Sharon Alker said. “Inclusion and equity access is very important to us. It was in our mission, but not in our code for evaluation criteria, so we felt that we need to have our mission in line with what our faculty are doing.”

A few years ago, the Faculty Personnel Committee recommended that the faculty reevaluate the language used to judge faculty accomplishments. This led to the creation of the Evaluation Criteria Working Committee, which Alker chaired. After 18 months of meetings with faculty and student groups, the distribution of an extensive survey and lengthy discussions, the Committee presented its recommendations to the faculty. The modifications were eventually passed by a majority of faculty.

Before the modifications, work that faculty members did outside of their traditionally-recognized responsibilities was not specifically valued in the tenure process. The new guidelines encourage faculty members to diversify their curriculums, ensure an inclusive classroom climate and recognizes mentoring of underrepresented students.

“There’s now language really emphasizing inclusivity, not just the topics of conversation, but the actual practices that teachers use in the classroom to help promote good dialogue,” Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Faculty Melissa Clearfield said. “There are a lot of faculty that work really hard to make the college campus climate more inclusive … now there’s language that says we value this work.”

Alker also pointed to the importance of the emphasis on recognizing faculty members’ previously obscure contributions to the Whitman community.

“If I am, for example, helping students of color adapt to a new college by meeting with them regularly in my office, that was kind of invisible, nobody knew that people were doing that but we felt that these were extremely important and had to be recognized,” Alker said.

According to Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Kazi Joshua, modifications help show that the faculty and the college as a whole are taking the emphasis on diversity and inclusivity seriously. Not only will the new language impact faculty already teaching at Whitman, but Joshua says the modifications will help him pitch Whitman to a more diverse group of incoming faculty.

A more diverse group of faculty can help create a more welcoming climate and lead to an increase in underrepresented groups in the student body.

“The changes may appear to be small to some people,” Joshua said. “But essentially they are saying that we are not only using the rhetoric of diversity and inclusion as a marketing gimmick, but we are willing to recognize and reward services that seek to build this population because we believe it’s integral to the mission of the college.”

Read the complete new language and the replaced old language here.