While the University deals with the resolution filed by the College of Arts & Sciences faculty regarding their displeasure over the Office of the Provost’s decision to deny tenure to certain professors, some students have taken matters into their own hands and have emailed the administration on behalf of their professors.
Students reached out to the University to advocate for two professors in the Honors Program that were both denied tenure.
Dr. Raymond Capra, professor of Classical Studies, was denied in 2016. As per Seton Hall’s policy, Capra was allowed to remain on staff for a year following his denial. He is required to leave the University at the end of the semester.
Now, Dr. Martha Easton, a professor of Art History, was also denied tenure. Both professors serve as instructors in the University’s Honors department.
Brian Pulverenti, sophomore classical studies and English major, said that this was a blow to the Honors department, which is expecting to accept the same number of students as it has in previous years but with less staff. Pulverenti sent a letter of dissent that the Honors Program forwarded to students as example for a letter writing campaign, to counteract these actions.
However, Dr. Fr. John J. Ranieri, a professor of philosophy and the director of the Honors Program, said the department was not encouraging students to participate, but rather was just informing them of what could be done. So far, the campaign has had no impact on the decision.
Anyone who is offered tenure is ensured a job that lasts until retirement age with the exception of a dismissal with just cause. Additionally, professors who are appointed to this role will not see a wage reduction unless there are cutbacks staff-wide. However, the application is not simple.
The process to become tenured lasts six years and acceptance is not guaranteed at the end of those six years, as was the case for Capra and Easton.
SHU professors looking to apply for tenure must fill out an application and submit appropriate supplemental materials to their respective departments by October of the current year to exemplify why they deserve tenure, according to the University’s Faculty Handbook.
By November, applications are sent to their respective department which convenes a Rank and Tenure Committee. This committee then reviews the recommendations and submits those that qualify to the Provost in December.
From then on, the Provost consults several deans and members of the Rank and Tenure Committee before a final decision is made on April 1, the Faculty Handbook stated. If applications are positively endorsed they are forwarded to the Board of Regents for approval. Otherwise, the applicant is denied tenure and the professor is allowed to remain at the University for up to one year before they must leave and find other employment.
Pulverenti said he is sure that Capra’s departure from the staff will cripple the department. “In terms of what Dr. Capra means to my education, I would absolutely say he is essential. He has been for the past 10 years the center of our Attic Greek program,” he said, referring to the Greek dialect of ancient Attica and Athens. “Obviously, this is the heart of Classical Studies. The entire program as it is today has its foundation in his contributions and his continued effort toward the betterment of its students.”
While Pulverenti’s letter did not include an appeal on behalf of Easton, Pulverenti said he would have written on her behalf as well had the announcement of her tenure denial come before he had sent the letter of dissent to Dr. Karen Boroff, interim provost.
“I hope that it turns out that they can both stay at Seton Hall,” Ranieri said. “If not we will have to find alternatives for the short term first and then we will have to look at the long term.”
Boroff said via email, “All recommendations are confidential and every person in a review capacity, no matter where one sits in the review process, is obliged to fulfill his/her obligations with the utmost of comprehensiveness and diligence, integrity, professionalism and confidentiality.”
Tenure is seen as a way to protect academic freedom, which shields teachers and professors for being terminated or adversely affected in any way for teaching controversial matter or writing about it as a personal project, according to the American Association of University Professors.
According to the Faculty Handbook, “All members of the faculty, whether tenured or not, are entitled to academic freedom as set forth in the 1940 ‘Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure’ established by the Association of American Colleges and the American Association of University Professors. Academic freedom is considered essential to the purposes of the university and applies to both teaching and research.”
However, some feel that the modern tenure process stifles creativity and forward thinking among its professors by forcing them to conform to subjects that are deemed common.
In regards to this dichotomy of thinking, Boroff said, “Given the strides that Seton Hall University has made over its proud history, strides which have ultimately benefited our students, the promotion and tenure process has served the University well.”
On April 21, the College of Arts and Sciences passed a motion asking Dr. Mary Meehan, interim president, to consider the cases of those who have been denied tenure, Ranieri said.
“A number of faculty think that the actions taken by the provost and the previous provost with regard to Capra and Easton were not warranted. The college faculty voted to ask the interim president to look into the matter,” Ranieri said.
Brynne Connolly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.