In an Equinox article written last week, a student expressed a desire to withdraw from his class, not because it was difficult, but rather the tenured professor wasn’t engaging him enough. The question then arises, does having a tenure contract justify a lack of effort?
Keene State College Alumnus Paul Mazzola said that he experienced having a professor he really liked, but who he felt didn’t put in the right amount of effort.
“Instead of teaching us, he would tell us stories. He didn’t use class time very well,” he said.
Mazzola said he believes this professor is smart because he’s been published in various papers, but that he might not be someone who teaches because they enjoy it. “I think he just wants to teach to do his research; that’s what the school should let him do,” Mazzola said.
However, Mazzola said he has had difficulty in other classes because he didn’t feel well prepared from this professor’s prerequisite class. “I tried really hard to take notes, but he would go super slowly,” Mazzola said. “Sometimes all he would do is go through the homework and he would repeat himself a lot.
KSC first-year Phillip Russo said one of his professors was amazing. “[He] brought charisma…was engaging,” Russo said. “It wasn’t even stuff I was interested in, but because of the dude it was like ‘all right, I’m interested now.’”
KSC first-year Anthony Jennings said that the same professor challenged him to think. “You would give an answer, and he would ask why and then you’d have to explain your answer; it really gets you thinking,” Jennings said.
Jennings said, “[It’s] how they approach it; it makes or breaks a class.”
Russo said that it can really affect a class if the professor doesn’t care. He said that it really depends on how much the professor values teaching.
Keene State College junior Tarissa Dunham said that professors should be adamant about encouraging students. “It’s their job to teach us what we need to know for when we actually graduate,” Dunham said.
Dunham said there were a few classes where she felt irritated by the assignments. “There seems to be a consistent lack of education…they tell us to read things and we don’t actually talk about it. I don’t feel like I’m actually learning; I’m just being told to read books,” she said.
Dunham said she recommends students seeking out their advisors and speaking with them if the problem persists. “They’re the ones to encourage us to go through these courses, helping you get on a path,” she said.
One organization that can pave the path for a professor to become qualified to receive tenure is the Faculty Evaluation Advisory Committee (FEAC).
Committee Chair Tom Cook said that a professor can apply for tenure after five years at Keene State College, but that after six years a professor must go for tenure with a disposition made. “During each of these five years you’re evaluated by your department, people come in and check on you; [they] look at your syllabus [and] your student evaluations,” Cook said.
Cook said that student evaluations contribute considerably to their decisions about giving a professor tenure.
“In particular what we’ll see, if we’re talking about student evaluations, is some sort of trend,” he said.
He explained that these trends can show if a professor is starting to slack off or not put in the recommended effort for students to learn. Cook said that, with this knowledge, the FEAC group then advises the provost, who makes the ultimate decision to either give a person tenure or let them go. He said they give this advice “based on criteria the department has created and kind of our own knowledge of how much work you should have been doing outside the classroom or inside the classroom.”
Cook said that, while the college does highlight teaching as an important consideration for tenure, it’s also largely dependent on what a professor can put out there to represent the school. “You’re hired, yeah to teach classes, but you’re really hired to go and either write articles or do research. It gets the name of the institution out there,” Cook said.
Associate Professor Mark Timney said that tenure allows protection for professors who may have provocative research findings. He explained that, if a professor was covering a controversial topic such as pornography, outsiders could look in and judge it, but that a tenure position protects that professor’s ideas.
“That’s what tenure is about; it’s allowing researchers to explore any topic without fear of reprisal,” Timney said.
He said that, once a professor gets tenure, it’s pretty much impossible to get rid of them. “I’ve joked you almost have to run nude through the campus at that point…break the law,” he said.
Timney said that, because it’s so difficult to get rid of someone with a tenure contract, the position does provide job security. However, he said he has yet to find a professor who really doesn’t want to teach.
“I’ve certainly known some lazy ones, but the tenure contract isn’t there to protect these lazy ones. What it’s here for is to take and protect a professor’s research,” Timney explained.
He also said that he understand how it is easy to get bored from teaching the same material time and time again. “It’s hard to keep the same excitement up about something you’ve taught 8,000 times before,” Timney said.
One KSC first-year, who asked to remain anonymous, said it seemed as if his professor was more scatterbrained than uncaring. He said this professor acted like Jack Sparrow with a “If I wasn’t crazy, this wouldn’t work” mentality.
He said that this type of behavior did affect him. “The hardest part is that I’ve really got to double and triple check things because I’m never sure what exactly he’s looking for,” the first-year explained, “I can’t take what’s said at the end of class to be what’s the assignment [is] on canvas.”
However, this student did say that the professor was willing to help any student who reached out.
Timney said that students shouldn’t feel intimidated about asking for help. “You’re paying a lot of money; you have every right to respectfully ask for something from that professor if you feel like you’re not getting it. And there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said.
Timney said that a professor should be available and aware of how students are responding to their teaching, even though he addressed that most professors have never had any formal training.
“With the exception of the education faculty, almost not none of us have ever received any teaching classwork, taken any teaching classes,” Timney said. “So we’ve never been taught to teach.”
Timney said this could absolutely hurt a professor. He said it was similar to a person who watched baseball as a sport then was thrown into coaching a game. “We still don’t have the expertise in teaching that we do in our subject areas,” he said.
However, Timney said that being an average teacher really doesn’t affect one’s career.
“What advances your career is being a good scholar,” he explained. “Right now the system is set up to reward scholarship over everything [else] and, because of that, what sane person is going to risk their job…by focusing entirely on teaching?”
Dorothy England can be reached at email@example.com