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Breaking: College postpones tenure-track appointment decisions, ‘shocking’ faculty who were up for promotion

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The Provost’s Office told full-time faculty who had applied for tenure that no new appointments would be made until next fall, postponing a critical, and celebratory moment, in the career of an academic.

The assistant professors had expected to hear if they were being awarded tenure by the third Monday in March, which was March 18. The process is outlined in the college’s Statement of Policy.

Senior Vice President and Provost Marcella David emailed the faculty who had applied for tenure and told them that in light of the college’s financial situation, President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim directed her to postpone decisions regarding tenure and promotion “and all other academic promotions until the beginning of next academic year.”

Kim cited the current review process over his recommendation that the college has met the criteria for “adverse circumstances,” allowing the college to close academic programs and lay off full-time faculty to help curb the $38 million deficit. The financial deficit was sitting at roughly $19 million last semester, before the part-time faculty union’s historic seven-week-long strike. He has recommended that “adverse circumstances” remain in place until the deficit is eliminated. 

The decision disrupts the trajectory of tenure-track professors who earn a pay bump when they are promoted from assistant to associate professor and often see the advancement as giving them more job security

One tenure-track professor who asked that their name not be used because of the sensitivity of still being in the midst of the promotion process said that the email was “absolutely devastating.” They spent much of the day crying. 

“This is something I have been working toward—dreaming of—for my entire academic career,” they told the Chronicle. 

The tenure process typically takes six years and involves months to prepare the application for promotion. Earning tenure also makes a faculty member eligible to apply for a sabbatical.

The Faculty Senate has until April 10 to reply to the draft report, which will be finalized and sent to the Board of Trustees on May 2. 

Nathan Bakkum, senior associate provost, confirmed to the Chronicle that the provost sent messages on Monday informing faculty that decisions for two processes are being delayed until August. The decision impacts promotions for tenure and for full professors. 

Full professor decisions are supposed to be announced by the first Friday in May under the Statement of Policy. Those reviews are still going forward, but no promotion decisions will be made until the fall.

David said in the email obtained by the Chronicle that she knows the decision was “disappointing.” She said it does not reflect the quality of the work of the affected faculty or how she and Kim “value all of our tenure-track and tenured faculty.”

But the faculty member who had applied for tenure said they were “shocked” that “the administration made this decision so late in the process, given what an important decision this is.”

“This was supposed to be a joyous week and now I am feeling completely dejected,” they said.

The professor added that the news also raises questions about the college’s long-term commitment to tenure and that many professors don’t understand why the decision to postpone has been made, as the administration has not provided a “logical or thorough answer” to them. 

Faculty have already expressed concern about pending layoffs, which Kim announced in February.

He said that reducing the core requirements could result in the possible elimination of 11 to 13 full-time faculty positions across the English and Creative Writing, Humanities, History & Social Sciences, and Science and Mathematics departments. 

Tenured faculty who lose their jobs get a year’s salary in severance. But faculty who don’t yet have tenure do not.

The decision also comes as the President’s Budget Advisory Board met Tuesday, March 19, with Kim announcing up to 101 personnel cuts across various administrative units.

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About the Contributor
Olivia Cohen, Editor-in-Chief
ocohen@columbiachronicle.com   Olivia Cohen is a senior journalism major, minoring in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She primarily reports on Columbia's financial health, administration and unions, but has also written about personnel and department changes, COVID-19 policies and abortion. She joined the Chronicle in August 2021.   Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota