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Tenure important at BU despite study’s findings

Despite a recent study by Inside Higher Education finding a majority of university provosts support an employment system off the tenure track, Boston University Provost Jean Morrison said the use of tenure track faculty will most likely continue at BU and other major colleges.

“If you look at the best universities in the nation, tenured track faculty are at the heart of those institutions,” she said.

The study, released Wednesday, surveyed 1,081 college and university chief academic officers about a number of issues including tenure, contract systems and massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

“While 7 in 10 CAOs [chief academic officers] strongly agree or agree that tenure remains important and viable at their institution, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of CAOs at all institutions say they favor a system of long-term contracts over the existing tenure system,” the study stated.

Morrison said tenured faculty members play an important role at BU.

“The role of tenure track faculty is and will continue to be critical here,” she said. “It has in fact increased and we do not foresee any change in that approach.”

BU’s status as a leading institution led to its induction into the Association of American Universities in November, a group of 62 leading research institutions in the U.S. and Canada, Morrison said.

Morrison said tenured faculty at BU either begin their position with a tenure track contract or acquire tenure after seven years of demonstrating excellence in scholarship, research, teaching and service.

“Tenure isn’t job-for-life without accountability,” said Eileen Sullivan, School of Education clinical assistant professor. “Just because one is tenured doesn’t mean they can drop the ball.”

Sullivan said it is very difficult to achieve tenured standing and that a system is in place that handles instructors that are not up to par with BU’s tenure standards.

Yae Jin Jeon, a School of Management sophomore, said the tenure system has strengths and weaknesses for both professors and students.

“It’s good because they’d be considered professionals at their job but the bad thing is if they have tenure, it’d be harder to fire them so they could take advantage of that,” Jeon said. “It’s not a very good incentive to keep up the good work.”

To prevent such instances, student evaluations are taken into consideration when debating whether a professor is to gain tenured status or not, Morrison said.

“Negative evaluations are shown to the faculty member in question to discuss how to improve the situation,” Morrison said. “Often times, faculty members work to improve themselves beforehand.”

BU’s Center for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching is a resource at professors’ disposal to improve teaching methods, Morrison said.

The center was established in 2001 to promote excellent teaching and to facilitate and continue the professional growth of university professors, according to its website.

Natasha Oramas, a College of Arts and Sciences senior, said while she can see the positive effects of having tenured faculty, the desire to achieve such a status can lead professors in the wrong direction.

She said she had a professor who graded students too harshly in an attempt to improve her reputation.

“The professor apologized after the grades went in, but said she did it because she was new and had to prove herself,” Oramas said.

In addition to the role of tenure, the study from Inside Higher Education also surveyed provosts on the role and efficacy of MOOCs. It found a majority of provosts view MOOCs as a threat to traditional study patterns.

“Only 12 percent strongly agree that MOOCs have great potential to make a positive impact on higher education,” the study stated. “Nearly half (47 percent) agree or strongly agree that MOOCs could threaten the business model of their institution.”

Morrison, however, said she believes online learning is an innovation that will greatly serve the BU student community as BU becomes a leader for new undergraduate experiences.

“I believe online technologies are going to enable us to significantly improve the quality of our residential education,” Morrison said. “It’s one of the things we are actively learning about.”

The Council for Education Technology and Learning Innovation, established in October, is a group of BU officials who explore the potential new roles of educational technology, Morrison said. At this time, online courses are offered to adult students at the Metropolitan College only.

David Whittier, School of Education educational media and technology coordinator, said MOOCs are significant developments in online education, but he does not necessarily think online learning can replace in-class education.

“People don’t sufficiently value face-to-face interactions,” Whittier said. “I think face-to-face classes are going to become more and more precious because more and more is going online.”

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