Tenure is not a topic on the minds of most undergraduate students, but Laura Pulido, professor of American studies and ethnicity, is working to change that.
Pulido, the founder of the Committee for Tenure Justice at USC, held a presentation for faculty, staff and students yesterday to discuss her “Tenure Bill of Rights,” which consists of 13 changes she hopes the University Committee on Appointments, Promotions & Tenure will enact in the future when determining who receives tenure.
“I see some big problems with the tenure process at USC,” Pulido said. “I’d like to see USC move toward a more open and transparent tenure process … Right now that is not our reputation in any way, shape or form. USC is becoming quite known as the institution where tenure is basically a crapshoot.”
Once professors receive tenure, Pulido explained, their positions at a university are permanent. Professors at USC are eligible for tenure consideration after six years of teaching. When tenure is denied, they are only guaranteed a position at the university for one more year, to give them time to find other employment.
The process is generally seen as one that cannot be swayed by faculty or student input, though Pulido is convinced that if undergraduates speak out, they will play a larger role in the process.
“The more people are talking about it, the more the institution will need to respond to the issues we’re raising … once [undergrads] begin to show that they’re invested in the process, we’ll begin to see some changes,” Pulido said.
Pulido, as well as other professors, believe USC lacks transparency in how its tenure process is handled. Her complaints include secrecy about who sits on UCAPT, what criteria are used in the decision-making process and why professors applying for tenure are denied.
“She pointed out some things that people of authority should look at, points that should be evaluated,” said Felix Gutierrez, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
Pulido said tenure is an important issue for the entire campus.
“For students it’s obviously really important in terms of keeping around teachers that they learn from, that they value, in some cases that they love, and when professors leave because they don’t get tenure, that can be really devastating,” she said.
Brittney Pottenger, a junior majoring in industrial and systems engineering, said she’d be willing to help professors by filling out more questionnaires during professor evaluations at the end of the year.
“When professors achieve tenure, they start teaching in unorthodox ways because they can’t get fired,” Pottenger said.
Right now, Pulido said, professors are just hoping for less secrecy.
“When someone is being rejected, you’re being told you’re not good enough without an explanation,” Pulido said.
Representatives from the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, the Viterbi School of Engineering and the Marshall School of Business were not available for comment.