Liberal arts instructors rally around interdisciplinary studies after tenure denials
Liberal arts professors at the University of Texas at Austin are worried that too many interdisciplinary scholars are losing their tenure bids. Meanwhile, these professors fear that future budget cuts to the university system could further endanger the ethnic studies centers and institutions many of these scholars rely on for programming and research.
Of the 14 instructors up for promotion to associate professor in the College of Liberal Arts this academic year, only eight were recommended for tenure -- the lowest rate of promotion in nearly a decade. About 81 percent of the instructors up for tenure review last year were promoted to associate professors. The rate has fluctuated between 64 and 95 percent in the last eight years before dropping to about 57 percent this year, according to UT-Austin data.
According to professors familiar with what happened, five of the six faculty members not recommended for tenure represent interdisciplinary fields. All six are minorities.
In a letter to UT-Austin President William C. Powers Jr. and Provost Steven W. Leslie, 32 faculty members in the liberal arts expressed their concerns about the methods used to determine whether an instructor is granted tenure.
“[W]e deeply regret that a large number of the cases that the College Tenure and Promotion Committee did not recommend for tenure involve scholars of color whose research is rooted and invested in interdisciplinary methodologies and areas of study,” the letter reads. “In our view, the recent promotion and tenure decisions affecting several colleagues will negatively affect the diversity of our academic community.”
Faculty members at UT-Austin go through a four-step process in order to be granted tenure, and must receive the recommendation of their department, dean and the provost before their case reaches the president. But at no point during that process are interdisciplinary centers and institutions able to voice their opinion as a formal part of the process, the professors argue.
“In these deliberations, important venues of interdisciplinary and ethnic studies, such as Centers and Institutes, did not have the opportunity to contribute their views and enrich the discussion and decision-making of the College Tenure and Promotion Committee,” the letter reads. “Unfortunately, this process remains limited by the boundaries of disciplines and departments; while at the same time the University publicly highlights the value of innovation and interdisciplinary research.”