3. The aftermath of “The Tenure War”

by Timothy V. Kaufman-Osborn
August 13, 2016

Table of Contents

  1. Founding and early decades (1916-1949)
  2. “The Tenure War” (1949-1952)
  3. >> The aftermath of “The Tenure War”
  4. Academic freedom, faculty compensation, and sabbaticals (1952-1978)
  5. Reviving the Whitman chapter (2016-present)

No doubt, as Howells indicated in private correspondence, approval of the revised tenure policy represented “a notable victory for the faculty.” That victory, however, effectively generated new questions that would vex the College for decades to come. These questions included: 1) the nature of the provisions that would trigger dismissal or suspension proceedings against faculty members as well as the due process protections afforded to those subject to these sanctions; 2) the criteria to be employed in evaluating faculty under review for contract renewal, tenure, and/or promotion; and 3) the question of who is to take part in the conduct of these reviews as well as the relative authority of the several participants. A detailed account of the way the College has addressed each of these issues is beyond the scope of this history. Here, it suffices to note that, during the quarter century following the College’s adoption and revision of a formal tenure policy, the Whitman AAUP chapter played a key role in shaping its response to each of these questions.

As incorporated into the College’s constitution and bylaws in 1950, the tenure policy authorized the suspension or dismissal of faculty members, regardless of status, on the basis of: 1) “conviction of an infamous crime;” 2) “misconduct reflecting seriously upon the College or upon the character or reputation of the person involved;” or 3) “being a member, associate, or supporter of any organization which gives allegiance to a foreign power or strives to undermine or overthrow the Government of the United States by other than constitutional ” (In 1962, rendering these criteria still more problematic, the faculty proposed and the Board endorsed a fourth cause for suspension or dismissal: “Mental or physical disability or unfitness to perform the duties for which he was appointed.”)

Perhaps unsettling to contemporary ears, in its November 30, 1950 letter, the Faculty Council assured the Board that these “admirable” criteria for dismissal and suspension “seem to offer sufficient protection to the College against undesirable results of indefinite tenure, once attained.” In part, the absence of articulated concern about these criteria may be indicative of the fact that, according to Edwards, “as early as 1947, Whitman faculty members had been required by state law to swear that they would support the federal and state constitutions and the flag, and show reverence for law and order and undivided allegiance to the government of the United States.” To its credit, following a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down loyalty oaths for state employees, the Whitman AAUP chapter proposed that the College eliminate the requirement that Whitman faculty do the same as a condition of employment. Moreover, two years later, the College adopted due process protections in dismissal and suspension cases modeled in large part after guidelines set forth in the AAUP’s 1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings. That said, it would be nearly half a century before the formal causes for suspension and dismissal, as initially stipulated in the 1950 policy and amended in 1962, were replaced by causes restricted to conduct, to quote the current Faculty Code, that is “related, directly and substantially, to the fitness of faculty members in their professional capacities.”

Far greater attention was paid during this period to the question of what role faculty should play in the process of conducting evaluations for contract renewal, tenure, and/or promotion. At the 1952 meeting during which the tenure policy was amended, Maxey also proposed and secured Board approval of a set of criteria to be employed in evaluating candidates, and these criteria were communicated to the faculty one year later. In addition to assessments of teaching, “scholarly attainments,” and “service to the College in other capacities than teaching,” Maxey indicated, these evaluations would consider whether faculty members have been “cooperative and constructive in relation with faculty colleagues and officers of administration,” whether there are concerns about the “moral character” of candidates, and echoing one of the grounds for dismissal, whether there are any doubts about their “loyalty to the government of the United States of America” or to “Whitman College and the principles of education for which it stands.”

In this communication, Maxey stated that recommendations for or against granting tenure in specific cases were to be advanced to the Board on the basis of evaluations conducted by the president and the dean of the faculty. Granted, Maxey and his immediate successors customarily convened “selection committees” that included senior faculty members in a consultative capacity, but no formal mechanisms for peer review were in place at this time. (The absence of these mechanisms, Edwards suggests, may partly explain why, during the eleven years of Maxey’s presidency, by his own reckoning, thirty-two faculty members resigned and another thirty-five were terminated.)

The earliest archival record of the AAUP chapter’s response to this problematic situation appears in 1962 when its members debated a resolution for possible presentation to the entire faculty. Anticipating the structure in place today, an initial draft of that resolution called for creation of a committee on evaluation and tenure. The three faculty members on this body would be elected by the faculty and serve for three-year terms, with the dean of the faculty serving in a non-voting ex officio capacity. This committee’s charge would be to gather “by all available means information bearing upon the effectiveness of members of the teaching faculty and the desirability of their being retained in service, promoted, and given tenure,” and, following review of that information, to “transmit to the President of the College conclusions and recommendations.” For reasons that are not clear from the archival record, the proposal eventually adopted by the chapter did not advance this recommendation, but, more modestly, called for contract renewal, tenure, and promotion reviews to be conducted by the president, the dean of the faculty, the chairs of the academic divisions, the “senior professor” (presumably of the department in which the candidate was located), and any other persons invited by the president to participate. At its November 1962 meeting, President Lou Perry announced to the faculty adoption of an evaluation process that was essentially congruent with this proposal.

It would be several decades, however, before faculty would become the primary participants in evaluation of their peers. An important step in this direction occurred in 1976 when Howells, now serving not as president of the AAUP chapter but as elected chair of the faculty, urged his colleagues to consider creation of annual ad hoc tenure committees. The membership of these committees, Howells proposed, “would consist only of full-time members of the teaching faculty,” but absent any member of a candidate’s own department. In their deliberations, he continued, “departmental members, the Dean, and the Division Chairmen would act as witnesses,” but would not participate directly in formulation of recommendations to the president. At about the same time, the current president of the chapter, Ray Norsworthy, announced to the faculty that it had formed a committee to study “the criteria and procedures by which decisions are made with respect to appointment, promotion, tenure and dismissals,” with an eye toward advancing recommendations that “conform to AAUP principles.”

These efforts bore fruit later in that same year when Robert Skotheim, one year into his presidency, and Kenyon Knopf, dean of the faculty, announced adoption of new criteria and procedures, as crafted by an ad hoc Committee on Faculty Evaluation and Development. This detailed document, which in most respects anticipates the policy in place today, effectively jettisoned the problematic criteria proposed by Maxey and adopted by the Board in 1952. In their stead, the new policy stated that faculty undergoing evaluation would be assessed in terms of three “essential” criteria: “1) good teaching, 2) an active professional life of high quality so that good teaching will continue throughout one’s career, and 3) responsible academic advising.”

With regard to the review process itself, this policy made provision for the creation of separate evaluation committees for consideration of contract renewal, tenure, and promotion cases, respectively. With some variation in composition, these committees included the appropriate division chair, the tenured members of the departments, and at least four other tenured members of the faculty. “At their discretion,” the policy also stated, the president and the dean of the faculty “shall sit with the committee as non-voting members.” Only in the following decade was the current Faculty Personnel Committee, composed exclusively of faculty members elected to review all contract renewal, tenure, and promotion cases in any given year, with the dean serving as an ex officio member, finally created. Under this system, the principle of peer review was at last realized insofar as, although not formally codified, it is now generally understood that recommendations generated by the Personnel Committee will be endorsed by administrators and governing boards unless there are compelling reasons to do otherwise and those reasons are communicated to the Committee.