Stopping the Tenure Clock for Emory's Junior Faculty
Would family-friendly delays of tenure be fair to all?

By Allison O. Adams


Q&A with Professor Mary DeLong

Q&A with Provost Rebecca Chopp

Which is harder? childbearing or childrearing?
Debates at other universities

Faculty Council and PCSW recommendations

Join a discussion of the issues raised in this article in The Academic Exchange LearnLink conference.



Associate Professor of History Mark Ravina's cluttered desk in his Bowden Hall office provides a striking visual metaphor for his life in recent years. On one corner sits an open box of "Tension Tamer" herbal tea. On another corner stands a pot of fresh coffee. Between the two are multitudes of manuscript pages, syllabi, and hastily scribbled Post-It notes.

"My wife wanted to start having children before she turned thirty because her mother died of breast cancer, and the single greatest thing you can do to reduce risk is begin breastfeeding earlier," says Ravina, father of Walker, age four, and Zoe, age two. "It was disturbing to be in a decision where you say, There's a problem no matter what I do. But there was no way to decide in favor of tenure over my wife's health. For the sake of my family, I had to put my job in jeopardy."

"Harrowing" is how Ravina, who received tenure on schedule in 1997, describes the years when his son was an infant, he was working on a book, and he was managing faculty duties as an inexperienced assistant professor. "From Walker's birth until this past year, I felt I had to be in at least two places at once every day, summers included. The only reason we managed those years was my wife was not working when the children were born."

Dilemmas like Ravina's are increasingly common at Emory and have given rise to a debate over whether the university should adopt a policy to stop the tenure clock-to extend the probationary period of junior faculty prior to going up for tenure in the cases of childbirth, adoption, or serious illness. Proponents argue the policy would support junior faculty members facing the dual pressures of personal obligations and working toward tenure. Others say it could entangle the university in messy problems of equity. Would the policy apply, for example, to someone whose home is destroyed by a tornado, or to someone whose spouse suddenly dies?

Last May, the President's Commission on the Status of Women at Emory proposed to President William M. Chace a family leave policy that offers faculty one semester of paid leave, another semester of unpaid leave, a temporary halt of the tenure clock, plus an option to return to work part-time for up to two years. In October, the Faculty Council unanimously passed a similar set of recommendations, which include a reduced workload, a one-year pause in the tenure clock, and a semester's paid leave for parents of new or seriously ill children.

"Most junior faculty at Emory are now expected to establish a national research profile in a short time while simultaneously demonstrating teaching ability in an environment where expectations for teaching performance are high," the Faculty Council recommendations state. "For many junior faculty, the same years when professional demands are virtually all-consuming are also those during which family responsibilities are most demanding. . . . The problem as we see it is in the lack of flexibility in a tenure system that was originally developed for a different faculty population (predominantly male) and a single, traditional model of the division of labor within families (only one parent in the workforce)."

A significant issue, says Faculty Council member and Professor of Medicine Nanette Wenger, is the absence of a consistent policy across the university. Individual requests for extensions of the tenure probation period, the committee found, are handled at the discretion of department chairs.

"On an individual basis, and not infrequently, faculty members have been able to negotiate a reduction in time and salary when a new baby comes or when a child is ill," says Wenger, who developed the Faculty Council recommendations along with Sharon Lewis, associate professor of psychology at Oxford College, and Randall Strahan, associate professor of political science in Emory College. "But no matter how well-meaning a department chair is, that individual cannot address the tenure issue. When someone reduces time like this, it cuts into university service and scholarly activities-categories for promotion. We thought it was important that the university recognize that for a reduction in time and salary, there should be a comparable extension for tenure. That must be addressed by university policy. I would hope to find the deans and directors very responsive to this, looking at the totally different nature of our faculty than when the tenure policy was initially formulated."

Both sets of recommendations have been carried to Provost Rebecca Chopp. "The president is consulting with the deans and others as to the recommendations of the PCSW," she reports. "The Faculty Council has asked the deans to describe the practices of their schools and to make a recommendation to the provost and president on extending the clock. We will continue those discussions this spring."

Chopp adds that she wants to ensure that such a policy is fair to all. "We need to be sure that a policy, especially a 'one-size-fits-all' policy, would be an improvement, and we need to be sure we have a culture in which any policy does not result in discrimination."

Andrew Mellon Professor of Politics and History Harvey Klehr, a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee, which reviews all tenure files across the university and advises the president and the provost on them, also urges caution. "I'm sympathetic to the idea of trying to reduce the pressure in some way," he says, "but I think it's unlikely we're ever going to create a situation where people are really comfortable. It's a pressurized situation no matter what you do. Tenure has gotten much tougher here as our aspirations and self-definition have changed. I think Emory now regards itself as a major national research university, and the kinds of faculty we're competing with other schools to hire are the best people coming out of graduate schools. We're demanding more from faculty, and we expect that the people we hire are going to be national leaders in their fields."

Klehr adds that implementing such a policy university-wide would be problematic. "One of the things I've seen on the Presidential Advisory Committee is the wide variety of circumstances across the schools. It becomes very, very complicated to include some of the sciences and professional schools where people live and die on grants. You may be able to stop the tenure clock, but you can't stop the grant clock. You can't shut down a laboratory for a year and just tell the National Science Foundation you're not going to report results this year."

Note: The Faculty Council resolution on policy changes to allow junior faculty to balance professional and family responsibilities, which was passed on October 20, 1998, is available at www.emory.edu/SENATE/resjrfacultydev.htm. The University's "Statement of Principles Governing Faculty Relationships," which guides tenure and promotion decisions, is available at www.emory.edu/PROVOST/statementofprinciples.htm


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