N.J. law lengthens tenure eligibility to six years

The measure, signed by Gov. Christie last month, makes new faculty at Rowan and other N.J. colleges and universities, eligible for tenure after six years, instead of the current five. Two women walk in the Edgewood Park apartments section of Rowan's campus on Nov. 8 , 2007. (Elizabeth Robertson / Inquirer Staff)
The measure, signed by Gov. Christie last month, makes new faculty at Rowan and other N.J. colleges and universities, eligible for tenure after six years, instead of the current five. Two women walk in the Edgewood Park apartments section of Rowan's campus on Nov. 8 , 2007. (Elizabeth Robertson / Inquirer Staff)
Posted: February 11, 2014

New faculty hires at New Jersey's state colleges will have more time to build their research portfolios before being reviewed for tenure, and the schools will have more flexibility when hiring faculty from other institutions under a law that takes effect this summer.

The measure, signed by Gov. Christie last month, makes new faculty eligible for tenure after six years, instead of the current five.

"It gives you more opportunities to demonstrate excellence," said Phillip A. Lewis, a Rowan University associate marketing professor who serves as negotiator for the faculty union Local 2373. "And since it's consistent with what is more common nationwide, it's hard to argue."

The law affects Rowan University and eight other institutions defined as "state colleges and universities," including Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Galloway and the College of New Jersey in Ewing.

Those schools also will be able to grant tenure to professors hired from institutions where they already have tenure, which New Jersey schools currently cannot do. Professors who have tenure elsewhere can be given pay and title equivalent to their academic rank but have to wait five years before being eligible for tenure.

"Absolutely, it's been an issue in our recruitment. Certainly it has come up where it's a disincentive," said Rowan spokesman Joe Cardona, describing cases in which professors who have gone through the tenure approval process once would not want to repeat it. "Now that'll really open up the doors. . . . Now there's an extra piece for us to be able to attract proven talent."

Rutgers University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology are considered public research universities and are not affected by the law, which passed the Legislature on Jan. 13 and which Christie signed four days later. Rutgers has a six-year probationary period before tenure review, a university spokesman said. (Rowan University received research designation last year but is included under the law, the school said.)

The law, introduced in 2010, takes effect July 17. Current faculty still in their five-year review period are grandfathered into the system under which they were hired. Rowan has 107 faculty in that five-year period out of 379 total tenured and tenure-track faculty.

The Rowan faculty union supported the extra probationary year primarily because it gives professors more time to publish research, Lewis said, citing humanities faculty who spend years working on books and engineering faculty who go through lengthy grant proposal and funding processes.

Tenure, which can be a politically charged issue, especially in K-12 education, was in this case changed with little fanfare. The six-year system is common nationwide, according to the American Association of University Professors.

"This is not revolutionary; that's why you're not hearing lots about it," Lewis said. "It is more consistent with what is the more common practice."

Roberta Harvey, Rowan vice president for academic affairs, said the new law would not significantly change the university's tenure criteria, which evaluate teaching, research, and service.

"Our expectations won't change fundamentally just because of the extra year," she said.

Lengthening the tenure process to match national trends will also help ensure the quality of faculty and encourage students to stay in New Jersey for college, said the assemblywoman who sponsored the bill.

"When our students are trying to make their decisions, they're doing it for many reasons," said Pamela R. Lampitt (D., Camden). "And a really well-educated student . . . they're going to look, hopefully, at the academic component: . . . Who are the faculty who are going to be teaching me, with the academic rigor, in the discipline I want to be studying?"

Lampitt, who is also an administrator at the University of Pennsylvania, said she hoped that by raising the quality of college faculty, the law would stem the flow of the state's notorious brain drain, in which tens of thousands of high school seniors leave the state for college.

Five years to prepare for tenure "just clearly wasn't enough time given the present day's standards - or the present-day expectations," Lampitt said.


jlai@phillynews.com

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