The faculty members students learn from are ultimately going to affect the outcome of their experience in higher education. If students end up with an instructor who doesn’t care about what he is teaching, they are going to suffer in the long run. The tenure system is common throughout the educational system and many people, including myself, believe this to be a broken system. Guaranteeing career security to educators who showed teaching merit at one point in their career does not mean they will always do so.
According to RIT Governance Policy E6.0, Faculty Rank, academic faculty at RIT can be broken down into two broad categories, tenure track and non-tenure track. RIT defines tenure as “[the] right of self-direction for faculty members to teach, research, and pursue studies without concern for the stability of their position.” Simply put, tenure track faculty members have job security. On the other hand, non-tenure track faculty members are employed by the institute for a set period of time and are not guaranteed job security outside the scope of their contract.
Tenure track faculty members at RIT start at the rank of assistant professor. They can then be promoted to the rank of associate professor (this is typically the rank at which tenure is awarded) and promoted once more to the rank of professor. Non-tenure track faculty members at RIT begin at the rank of lecturer. They can be promoted to the rank of senior lecturer and promoted again to the rank of principal lecturer.
RIT has set high standards and areas of concern that educators should strive to meet. These include: academic and professional qualifications, scholarship and service. Tenure is not something that every faculty member will achieve; according to Governance Policy E5.0, Policy on Tenure, “…tenure is earned through the demonstration of high standards in those areas and concern for students’ personal worth and advancement.”
Unfortunately there is no way to guarantee that a tenured faculty member will continue to excel and uphold the high standards that earned her the award of tenure in the first place. I strongly believe that an academic faculty member’s tenure status should be reviewed throughout her career. If tenured individuals know that they are up for evaluation and review every few years, they may be more inclined to keep up the behavior that earned their esteemed status in the first place. I would much rather see a non-tenure track faculty member who cares about students and quality teaching have job security than one who has simply stopped trying to better himself as an educator and is content to coast by on rank.
Students can make a difference in the tenure process. According to E6.0, student and peer evaluations are criteria for granting tenure. Filling out evaluations and rankings on instructors are two great ways to provide feedback to deans and college administrators. As a student, your opinion matters. The tenure system is in place to reward quality educators, not allow them to get lazy. Reviewing tenure status is a great way to make higher education a better place.