M. D. Anderson Cancer Center violated professional norms as well as its own policies regarding academic freedom and tenure in failing to renew two long-term professors. That’s the upshot of a report out today from the American Association of University Professors on the nonrenewal of Kapil Mehta and Zhengxin Wang from 2012-13. Like all professors at M. D. Anderson, Mehta and Wang were employed on a seven-year “term tenure” contract, and were not renewed after having each been granted tenure in previous cycles. Both received unanimous faculty recommendations for their tenure renewals, but they were denied at the institutional level and never provided reasons why in writing, according to the report. Their appeals -- to the same office that denied them tenure in the first place -- were rejected.
The A.A.U.P. expressed significant concern about the idea of temporary tenure, which it called a contradiction in terms, last year in an article on the cases in Inside Higher Ed. In its full investigative report, A.A.U.P. says that University of Texas-affiliated cancer center -- like many other research institutions -- is facing decreased funding opportunities and so putting greater pressure on the faculty to do more with less. But M. D. Anderson is unusual and in violation of the principles of tenure in making its faculty reapply for tenure every seven years under the guise of accountability, the report says. It’s also unusual in that it didn’t follow its own procedures for transparency regarding the two tenure decisions. A.A.U.P.’s report also suggests procedural irregularities in the review of a third, pretenure professor who was demoted to a classified position. The investigating committee noted additional concerns about shared governance and the overall climate for academic freedom at M. D. Anderson, especially under President Ronald DePinho, who began in 2011.
Mehta is finishing out the end of his term at M. D. Anderson and pursuing other opportunities. He said the A.A.U.P. investigation so far hasn’t changed his situation but he hopes it will prevent other scholars from being treated similarly in the future. Wang found a faculty position at Clark Atlanta University.
Via email, an M. D. Anderson spokesman said the institution had "many serious issues" with the report, especially its focus on DePinho, who did not initiate the term tenure policy, which has been in effect for decades. The spokesman also questioned A.A.U.P.'s assertions that both professors hadn't been given reasons for their tenure denial, since the provost told Mehta in writing that he'd been denied because he was not expected to meet his funding target. In an official letter of response to A.A.U.P., M. D. Anderson said its current tenure renewal rate remains high, at 97.7 percent.