Toward a Better Tenure and Hiring Policy · 16 November 2005

Filed under: Press Coverage

By Sara Dogan and David Horowitz--SAF--11/17/05

Our academic freedom campaign is concerned not only with the academic freedom of students, but also with that of professors. The Academic Bill of Rights highlights these concerns in the first two of its eight enumerated rights, which forbid the use of political or religious criteria in determining the outcomes of hiring, promotion and tenure decisions.

Two recent cases---one involving a conservative Native American legal scholar and the other an anarchist anthropologist---highlight these concerns.

Professor William Bradford, one of only a handful of American Indian law professors in the nation, is currently an untenured associate professor of law at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Law School (IUPUI). Last spring, Prof. Bradford became the target of a concerted attack by "progressive" law faculty to deny him tenure and even to terminate his employment at the school. This attack was incomprehensible in view of his academic record, which outshone many full professors on the IUPUI law faculty. Bradford claimed that the attack on his status was triggered by his refusal to sign a petition in behalf of Ward Churchill, whom the progressive caucus on his faculty supported.

Professor David Graeber is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Yale. Despite a highly regarded record of teaching and scholarship, he was told in May of 2005 that his teaching contract would not be extended. As Graeber noted in an interview at the time, "it's impossible to say anything for certain [about why my contract wasn't extended] because no official reasons were given for the decision, and I'm not allowed to know what was said in the senior faculty meeting where my case was discussed. In fact, if anyone who attended were to tell me what I was accused of, they would themselves be accused of violating 'confidentiality.'"

Graeber traces departmental antagonism towards his continued tenure at Yale to his participation in protests against the IMF and G8 and his published writings defending the philosophy of anarchism, and notes that his official third-year review-conducted prior to his involvement in anarchist organizing-went smoothly. Problems first arose during his sixth year review, a process he describes as "normally a rubber stamp," when senior faculty members suddenly opposed his promotion to term associate on the grounds that he had not taken on any committee work---a spurious charge, given that they had been unwilling to assign him any.

In response to these criticisms, Graeber took on numerous extra duties-including running a colloquium series and teaching an extra course. Despite these efforts, he was informed without explanation that the department would not renew his contact.

The problem in both these cases is that the tenure process is like a star chamber proceeding where there is little accountability, and the pressures of collegiality prevent others from declaring publicly any objections they may have to a lack of fairness in the proceedings.

Therefore, we are proposing that university administrators adopt the following policy and publicize it to their faculties:

Violations of procedural due process or substantive due process are not covered by the principle of the confidentiality of a hiring or tenure meeting of a Department. Any faculty-member who believes that such violations have occurred has the right and the duty to report such violations immediately and in writing to the appropriate high administrator who deals with faculty issues at the university in question.

For those not familiar with the language of the policy, procedural due process has to do with errors that occur in the administrative process of the hiring or the tenuring itself, for example, a failure to provide the number of external evaluations required by the tenuring process, or a failure of the tenure subcommittee to visit the candidate's courses to observe teaching, and so forth.

Substantive due process is usually a much more serious charge and refers to allowing non-permissible factors such as the candidate's race, gender, political views, or religion to play a role in the formal decision making process.

A certain amount of confidentiality within the tenure and hiring process is an understandable requirement and should be expected both by those charged with evaluating candidates and by the candidates themselves. However, when "confidentiality" is used to obscure abusive conduct and to prevent challenges to discriminatory actions, the interests of preserving the general integrity of the hiring and tenure processes override those of preserving the privacy of the deliberations.

We are confident that, if adopted, this new policy would lead to greater openness and fairness in hiring and tenure processes by removing the cloak of enforced ignorance that currently surrounds these decisions.