Johns Hopkins University plans to establish a universitywide body to advise President Ronald J. Daniels on the strength of tenure cases forwarded to him for consideration, a change that will foster consistency in academic standards and decision-making across disciplines and one that brings JHU in line with how tenure decisions are handled at peer institutions. On Friday, the Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed the proposal.
The 14-member Tenure Advisory Committee, or TAC, will be chaired by the provost and made up of full professors from each of the university's tenure-granting schools. The TAC will review materials from school-level recommendations and advise the president as to whether the committee does or does not support the recommendation. The TAC will also advise on school-level tenure denials that are appealed to the provost.
Presently, tenure recommendations are forwarded to the president by school-level academic councils, each of which approaches the process differently and applies its own governance and weighting of factors.
"I am confident that the Tenure Advisory Committee will further amplify faculty perspectives and contribute positively to our university's shared governance on tenure matters," Daniels said in an email to university faculty on Friday.
Changes to the tenure process were recommended by the Faculty Advisory Committee on Tenure, or FACT, charged in April with assessing the value of creating a university-level tenure committee and making recommendations for its composition and procedures. The group's final report is the culmination of nine months of extensive research, consultation, deliberation, and revision.
In determining their initial recommendations, members of the FACT met with faculty colleagues from every school-level tenure review committee and heard from colleagues at a dozen university peers. The FACT then sent a draft report to the faculty community for a two-month comment period, receiving 148 comments from individual faculty across the university that led to several substantive changes in the final report. The final report and a summary of changes from the initial draft are available on the provost's website.
"Members of the committee were probably most surprised to discover that the vast majority of our peer institutions have long had university-level bodies that review tenure requests emanating from their individual schools and divisions," said Al Sommer, dean emeritus of the Blooomberg School of Public Health and the FACT's chair. "Communications with faculty and staff from those institutions indicated their broad support for the process, as it exposed senior faculty from across the university to the culture and perspectives of the other schools and provided senior university leaders input into a decision they would otherwise have to make on their own."
A common concern among Hopkins faculty members the committee heard from, Sommer added, was that adding a layer of review might prolong the tenure decision process, but he said the committee designed mechanisms to ensure the process can proceed within existing timelines.
A final report was presented to Daniels on Dec. 17, and the proposal endorsed by the Board of Trustees reflected additional modifications based on subsequent feedback and concordance from the Homewood Academic Council and others.
"The board of trustees endorses heartily and unanimously the changes to the tenure approval process proposed by the Faculty Advisory Committee on Tenure," said Lou Forster, the board's chair. "The university-level step is an important characteristic of the 'One University' principle. The board appreciates the thorough study and extensive consultations undertaken by the members of the Faculty Advisory Committee on Tenure and its chair, Al Sommer, and the contributions of Homewood faculty who have engaged in this process with the best interests of our university in mind."
The new advisory body is expected to begin its work by the start of the next academic year and will not review tenure cases forwarded to the president during the current academic year. It will be instituted for an initial period of three years, then be evaluated before being made permanent.
"This is a great step that will bring our divisions together in their common aim to attract, promote, and nurture an exceptional faculty and to ensure Johns Hopkins' enduring success," said Roger Faxon, chair of board's committee on academic policy and former chair of Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Advisory Council.
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