Debating tenure

Marco Lam / Castleton Spartan

Science professor Andy Vermilyea works with a student during
a recent lab. Vermilyea, who does not have tenure, believes tenure
guidelines could be more rigorous

There are certain topics that will always be debated. Topics that no matter what, not everyone will agree upon. Things like abortion, welfare, and gun rights seem to be hot in the press all the time, but never resolved.

Tenure is one of these topics.

Studies have been done for and against tenure, with little to no change being made in the process for a professor to get these benefits. A junior professor at a college or a university must work for either six or seven years depending on the state, and if at that point are not signed on as a tenured professor, are let go. Tenure offers professors a kind of job security that is not offered in other job fields.

Castleton is very familiar with this process.

“I think tenure is a really good thing. It’s one of the few advantages we have as educators. We’re greatly underpaid as an institution, so it’s nice to have job security,” said Tersh Palmer, a professor in the English department.

According to a study done by the National Education Association, there are many myths about tenured professors that need to be set straight. In the article, the author mentions that one myth is that tenured professors don’t work very hard.

Some students at Castleton agree.

“I think tenure shouldn’t be allowed in colleges, it basically lets teachers slack off after they get it. It only encourages students to care less if the teachers don’t care,” said senior Jed Zawisza.

Though this is a popular opinion among students, faculty generally does not feel the same way about Castleton.

“There are faculty who have been here forever who work the longest hours,” said professor Andy Vermilyea, an assistant chemistry professor, up for tenure in one year.

“Teachers don’t get paid all that terribly well in the state of Vermont, so most people aren’t here because they’re getting huge paychecks. They’re here because they like to teach,” said English professor Flo Keyes, who is also on the committee which reviews files of professors up for tenure.

Still, there are other students who disagree with the whole tenure process.

“I honestly think it’s a stupid system. It allows professors to do whatever they want without consequence. It’s ridiculous. I’ve had professors who don’t do anything, and while it’s nice to have an easy professor, it sucks because I’m paying so much to be here,” said junior LeeAnn Senecal.

According to an article published by the Slate Institute, one of the most popular benefits of being a tenured professor is the academic freedom that comes with the job security. Professors at Castleton agree.

William Chmielewski / Castleton Spartan

Students listen to tenure professor Christopher Boettcher's

“The idea that having tenure gives somebody the freedom to speak without fear of consequence from their employer is very appealing. I’m sympathetic to the logic of tenure,” said associate professor Rich Clark, who just completed his second year on his way to tenure.

“It’s nice to have the freedom of expression. It good to know that if I talk about a controversial topic in the classroom, I can’t be fired if the administration disagrees,” Palmer said.

But does that mean that professors are too careful before they get tenured?


“I’ve had new professors who seem too scared to say anything that may be taken wrong that our discussions in class can get boring,” said sophomore Kendall Greene.

There are flaws to the system, as with any system. There are people who will slip through the cracks and get by even though they shouldn’t have.

Some professors had suggestions on how to improve the tenure process.

“It should be a more rigorous process. We as faculty hold the students to a high level, and I believe we should be held to a higher one as well,” Vermilyea said.

This was a popular opinion.

“If I were to make any changes, I would say that tenure should be a higher bar. This is such a pleasure to be able to do this line of work, that the price of admission ought to be high,” Clark said.

Professor Paul Cohen looked at it from a business standpoint.

“In the business world, it probably doesn’t make much sense. You want to be able to get rid of the deadwood, but I don’t see that as an issue here at Castleton,” Cohen said.

Overall, there are varying opinions about tenure at Castleton, as there are all across the country. In the end, student evaluations count for a lot more than most people realize. The committee that reviews the files up for tenure is reviewing the student evaluation forms and thinking about making some changes, according to Keyes.

“A lot of this is in the hands of the students. If we have students being apathetic on those evaluations, we could have faculty moving through who shouldn’t be and getting tenured. The students hold a lot of power,” said Vermilyea.

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