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Four professors earn tenure

In the past ten years, many new faculty members have been hired, which means that “every summer five to six professors come up for tenure” says Vice Provost Dr. Lawrence Schiffman. This summer was no exception, as four professors from a variety of departments were granted tenure: Debra Kaplan (Judaic Studies), S. Abraham Ravid (Finance), Gillian Steinberg (English), and Traci Tullius (Art).

The tenure process at Yeshiva follows a more or less standard route. Professors are reviewed in six-year cycles, meaning that from the time they are hired, they are evaluated continuously and, in the sixth year, they come up for tenure. If a professor does not receive tenure, he or she teaches for one more year and then leaves the university.

In order to receive tenure, a professor must be recommended by their department to the Provost. He in turn presents his assessments of the different professors, whether they are positive or negative, to the board of trustees, whose members make the ultimate decision. Though tenure is an academic decision, it also has a strong financial element as it effectively grants a lifetime contract, which is why the board’s involvement is necessary.

The board’s discussion is more than a formality, notes Dr. Schiffman. “The discussion is real because they’re exercising a proper level of control on what the university can do, though they will most likely reach the same conclusion as the Provost”.

The main criteria for receiving tenure are history of research, service to the university, and being a good teacher. By far the most important of the three is research, and strong showings in the other two categories will not make up for a lack in the first. Past research alone is not reason enough to grant a professor tenure, because the future research the professor performs is truly most important in the tenure calculus. When giving a faculty member tenure, “you’re making a bet on someone,” observes Dr. Schiffman, and you have to be sure that they will continue to produce—otherwise, giving a professor tenure could be a huge mistake, as removing tenure is an extremely complicated process.

There is a growing movement against tenure, as some feel that tenure allows professors to slack off without practical repercussions. The traditional reason for tenure was to ensure professors’ academic freedom. If a professor receives tenure, he or she becomes more capable of taking strong stances on different issues, even if their views are at odds with the university or someone on the University Board of Directors. Dr. Schiffman argues that most universities are very tolerant, and tenure is not necessary to secure academic freedom. It is necessary however, to allow professors to take on long-term projects, without having constant evaluation hanging over their heads. In addition, it gives job security to those who, though they have other options, are entering a field where the pay is significantly lower. For example, choosing research science over being a medical doctor, or becoming a historian over a lawyer, remains an option with the guarantee of tenure.

But why is research so important? Why is it necessary for students to be taught by professors that are involved in research? Dr. Schiffman believes that “you can see the difference…It’s a level of intellectual life” that you cannot get from a regular teacher that just knows their material. A researching professor is involved in the evolution of their discipline, and Dr. Schiffman maintains that the value of constantly questioning and exploring comes through to the students, a lesson which is of incredible worth to the student body.