Faculty Posts for Nonacademic Presidents

New U of Iowa leader was offered the prospect of a tenured position, but he passed. When presidents never earned tenure, does a faculty job belong in the contract?

September 9, 2015
Presidents of Purdue, U of California and U of Iowa

So far, Bruce Harreld, the newly named president of the University of Iowa, has made one decision that faculty members have applauded. Harreld, whose selection was opposed by faculty leaders and many other academics, said he would not seek the position as tenured professor that the Iowa Board of Regents offered as a possibility.

Harreld's contract said that "subject to the recommendation of the faculty," he would be granted tenure as a professor in Iowa's College of Business, and that this position would be available to him when he left the presidency, at a salary equal to the highest-paid tenured business professor at the university.

Such contract provisions are common for college and university presidents. But it's also common that many presidents earned tenure at some point in an academic career that turned into an administrative career. But what about candidates like Harreld, who was named president despite never having held a full-time position in academe or demonstrating much knowledge of how colleges and universities work? (Board members said they liked his extensive business experience.) Should these nontraditional presidents receive the same tenure offers as part of their contracts when they never earned tenure?

A spokesman for the Iowa Board of Regents stressed when providing Harreld's contract that the provision about a tenured faculty position was added to draft contracts for all four finalists for the Iowa presidency. Of course the other three finalists -- included a sitting college president and two university provosts -- were people with long careers working in higher education.

Nontraditional presidents and the boards hiring them make different decisions about the faculty position. In December, the president of the University of California system, Janet Napolitano, was appointed a tenured faculty member at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy -- a job for which she will not be paid while serving as president. Prior to taking her current position, Napolitano served as U.S. secretary of homeland security and governor of Arizona. The university took care in announcing the tenured appointment that it had gone through a faculty review. The university also noted Napolitano's work on education issues while she was governor and homeland security secretary.

But such appointments can annoy faculty members. Many professors at Louisiana State University objected in 2010 when Sean O'Keefe, previously administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was hired as LSU chancellor and offered a tenured position in the Public Administration Institute.

Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University, is also a politician turned president, having previously served as governor of Indiana. His contract contains a provision that he is authorized to teach as a clinical professor -- and he does so, leading an honors seminar every semester. But that is an additional duty while he is president. Daniels does not have tenure and a spokesperson said that Daniels said the idea of seeking tenure "never entered his mind" when he assumed the Purdue presidency.

John R. Thelin, a University of Kentucky professor who is among the leading historians of American higher education, said the tradition of a tenured appointment for a president arose because candidates typically had earned tenure elsewhere. Thelin said that, historically, it was not the case that nontraditional presidents received tenure or expected it. Thelin cited as an example one of the most famous nonacademic presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who did not receive a faculty appointment during his brief time as president of Columbia University.

Thelin said that he's not sure the tenured appointment even makes sense anymore for those with academic backgrounds. He said that the role of president has become "sufficiently distinctive and distant from that of a professor," in an era when few are going from professor to president, that the focus of a presidential contract should be on presidential duties. Further, Thelin said that at a time when many board members are trying to limit the number of tenured positions, it doesn't make sense to reserve spots for ex-presidents.

Many presidents who “return to the faculty” are “not especially engaged or productive in teaching and research,” he said.

Raymond Cotton, a lawyer who specializes in contract negotiations on behalf of college and university presidents, said that while he routinely pushes to include a tenured faculty position for presidents who are academics, he does not do so for nonacademic presidents.

"I wouldn't ask for it because it wouldn't be appropriate," Cotton said. Tenure should be "based on academic background and experience," and should not be granted by boards of trustees to anyone hired as president by default.

Some say that offering a tenured position to a new president who lacks an academic record devalues the role of faculty members. Benjamin Ginsberg, David Bernstein Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, and author of The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters (Oxford University Press), said of the practice of offering tenured faculty positions to non-academic presidents: "It says that the trustees view tenure as a perk, like use of a company car, rather than recognition of a distinguished record of research and teaching."


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