On Tenure in the Northeast

The tenure process plays a significant role at community colleges in the Northeast, with over 80% of those who responded to my query stating that there was some kind of tenured position still offered on their college campuses. That said, the number of new tenure-track hires may be dwindling, and the number of contingent faculty in English departments continues to rise.  While some faculty reported about 50% tenured or tenure-track faculty, many see fewer than 25% of their courses being taught by part-time faculty as tenured faculty lines are simply not replaced when tenured faculty retire. At Ocean County College in New Jersey, for example, the last tenure-track faculty members were hired in 2013, and several of those faculty in the previous two years were denied tenure despite positive reviews.

The process for most community college English departments seems to emphasize teaching, with student and peer evaluations weighing heavily in a tenure bid.  Colleges also include service activities in a bid for tenure, such as committee work in their departments, coordinating events, active participation in college-wide events (such as orientations, recruitment, and other functions), club advising, college-wide committee work, and organizing campus events. While conference presentations and participation are encouraged, scholarly work and publication does not appear to be emphasized as much, with the noted exception of the publication requirement of colleges in the CUNY (City University of New York) system, such as Borough of Manhattan Community College, LaGuardia Community College, and Kingsborough Community College. At Kingsborough, faculty must have at least two refereed articles or creative works in one’s field with at least one as the sole author.

In some cases, scholarly work can be tied directly to pedagogy. At Bergen Community College, for example, faculty and administration collaborated on a new five-year tenure process which requires a research-based professional development project that can be connected to student learning outcomes or professional growth. The tenure portfolio packet consists of a faculty record of professional activities, workload context, teaching philosophy, professional strengths, and classroom observations. The required project includes an abstract of research-based professional development plan, process, implementation, results, interpretation of results, reflection, dissemination, collaboration and reflection.

Some colleges have a first-year orientation and periodical workshops that offer professional development for faculty. Most faculty on the tenure track are assigned a mentor, though some receive this kind of support only in the first year. After that point, it appears in many cases to be up to the faculty members to foster their own mentoring relationship. In most cases, the tenure conversation begins with an elected tenure and promotion committee at the department level, moves to a campus-wide tenure and promotion committee, moves to the campus-wide department chairs, goes to a Dean or Provost, and ends at the President.

Despite many similarities in the process of receiving tenure, it’s clear that there are enormous discrepancies, even within the region (or in some cases, within each state), when it comes to tenure for community college faculty.  Some colleges are unionized; some are not.  Some provide mentorship; some do not.  Some have rigorous publication requirements, some do not.  Is it any wonder that while some faculty long to be unionized, others are apathetic about the need tenure at all (even suggesting that tenure is “no longer necessary”)?

Kelly O. Secovnie of Borough of Manhattan Community College writes, “I think we as community college faculty should lobby for more realistic standards for tenure and promotion. . . . that could be used as standards across community colleges.” With such widely divergent policies in place across the region, it is clear that there is a need for a unified effort on the issue of tenure.

-Leigh Jonaitis

Special thanks to the following for their contributions to this report:
Iris Bucchino and Daniel Salerno of Bergen Community College (New Jersey), Carl Calendar of Brookdale Community College (New Jersey), J. Elizabeth Clark and Heidi L. Johnsen of LaGuardia Community College (New York), Jennifer Cohn of Bunker Hill Community College (Massachusetts), Barbara Cooper of Howard Community College (Maryland), Matthew Eberhart of Harrisburg Area Community College (Pennsylvania), James Freeman of Bucks County Community College (Pennsylvania), Susan Gentry and Elizabeth Keifer of Tunxis Community College (Connecticut), Robert Lazaroff of Nassau Community COllege (New York), Tammy Peery of Montgomery College (Maryland), Jacqueline Scott of Community College of Baltimore County (Maryland), Kelly Secovnie of Borough of Manhattan Community College (New York), Heidi Sheridan and Lynn Siracusa of Ocean County College (New Jersey), and Cheryl Hogue Smith of Kingsborough Community College (New York).

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