Some of the best and brightest in UM political science aren’t willing to roll the dice on tenure because of the department’s record on keeping faculty.
Last semester, the political science department lost three professors. The year before, it lost two. Former untenured professors have said they’ve left Miami because of a lack of support from tenured professors and the administration.
“People see the writing on the wall and leave before they get to the point of coming down for tenure,” said Robert Barr, who had been at the University for three years before leaving in May.
The problem has left the department constantly hiring new faculty. It has also raised some university-wide and national issues in academia, such as how tenure should be granted, how much a department should rely on adjunct professors, and how departments in different schools can coexist.
Barr, who began applying for other jobs since his first year at UM and took a pay cut to go to the University of Mary Washington in Fredricksburg, Va., said that most junior faculty members like himself did not want to reach the six-year tenure review point and risk getting denied-a “scarlet letter” in academia.
According to Pete Moore, who is now at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, tenure-track faculty in political science cannot say many good things about the department to their peers.
“Universally, we’re not happy,” said Moore, who was at UM for four years. “The only silver lining [we can tell new faculty]is that this is a good place to leave from.”
Former faculty members said the department does not provide mentorship for its junior professors or give them confidence that they will be reviewed fairly when they go up for tenure.
However, according to June Dreyer, a tenured professor and former chair of the department, professors usually leave for non-academic reasons.
“Some people don’t like the warm weather,” she said. “Some professors have family somewhere and want the kids to be close to Grandma.”
Dreyer also cited the expensive housing market and the problems in the public school system as reasons for the junior faculty to leave.
Fred M. Frohock, chair of the department, said that because UM hires good faculty that do good research, they may find better jobs elsewhere.
“If you have good faculty, there’s going to be competition for them,” Frohock said. “In a perverse way, it speaks to our quality.”
Frohock also said that fear of hurricanes has hurt hiring in the department as well.
Former faculty speak out
Yet, most former faculty interviewed by The Hurricane said they would have stayed in Miami had they not been worried about the prospect of being denied tenure.
“Many of us were very happy in Miami and would have stayed if it was a more stable and predictable place,” said Andrew Schrank, who left UM after one year when he took a job at Yale. He is now at the University of New Mexico.
“I enjoyed living in Miami,” said Ken Shadlen, who left UM in 2002 and is now tenured at the London School of Economics and Political Science. “I enjoyed the teaching and the students, but it’s an uncomfortable environment.”
Other professors were more critical.
“The whole environment was completely hostile,” said Nancy Scherer, who is now at Ohio State University. “At every single level of the chain of command, [Miami’s] a disaster.”
Former faculty said that, because the department had few tenured members, it had to bring in professors from other business departments-who weren’t social scientists-to help make tenure decisions. These outside professors, they said, did not understand political science research.
Last year, however, the number of senior faculty in the department grew when George Gonzalez was granted tenure.
Gonzalez said the tenure process causes anxiety at all universities, and that UM is no better or worse at giving its junior professors support.
“The people who left could have gotten tenure if they had stuck around,” Gonzalez said. “It was a miscalculation on their part.”
Despite Gonzalez’s tenure, however, junior professors do not seem to be reassured. The Hurricane contacted all seven current junior faculty members in the department, but five of them declined to comment on the record, some because they feared possible repercussions. The other two started working at UM in August and said they could not comment on the subject after so little time at the University.
Frohock said he was saddened that faculty would fear consequences for speaking to the student newspaper. School of Business Dean Paul Sugrue called the professors’ silence “disturbing.”
The contract problem
At UM, tenure-track professors receive one-year renewable contracts. They have a review of their work every year, a more in-depth review after three years, and go up for tenure after six years.
At the heart of the professors’ fear seem to be these one-year renewable contracts, where professors can be dismissed after one year. In Daniel Stevens’ case, he knew his contract would not be renewed after one semester.
The contract with Stevens, an American politics professor, was not renewed after his first semester at the University because he received low teacher evaluations, according to Sugrue.
“We take teaching evaluations very seriously [in the School of Business],” Sugrue said.
Stevens said he was originally given other reasons for his dismissal, including lack of collegiality and alleged anti-American comments he made in class, but those reasons were eventually discarded (three out of roughly 80 students complained about Stevens’ comments, the former UM professor said).
Although Stevens acknowledged getting low teaching evaluations, he said he should have gotten some support, as it was his first semester teaching.
“For anyone coming in, you have to adjust to students in Miami,” Stevens said. “I don’t think there is any other university in the country that would have done what Miami did.”
Stevens was given three months to find a job, a decision he appealed. He then got an additional year to job-hunt and now teaches in Hartwick College in New York.
As a result of Stevens’ experience, the University of Minnesota, his alma mater, is reluctant to send its graduates to UM.
“We don’t control where our graduates apply for jobs, but I would strongly discourage anyone from applying for a position there,” said John L. Sullivan, chair of the political science department at Minnesota. “It would reinforce the treatment that [Stevens] got.”
Frohock, who has been department chair since January, said he is aware of this problem.
“It’s probably true that other schools won’t send some people here,” Frohock said.
He added that he hopes to change the department’s reputation.
“Word on the street is that we’re unstable,” he said. “But word on the street can change quickly.”
Frohock also said he would like to see UM’s contract system change.
“My ideal campus would not have [one-year renewable contracts],” he said, adding that he favors three-year contracts with “soft” reviews every year.
His feeling was echoed by former department chair Jonathan West and by Sugrue.
“I would much rather go to a three-year contract,” Sugrue said.
So why not change the contracts?
Provost Thomas LeBlanc, who is in his first semester at UM, said he was still trying to understand the University’s contract system. Former Provost Luis Glaser declined to comment for this story, saying he was too busy. President Donna E. Shalala, who is a tenured professor in political science, also declined to comment.
The second part of this series will run in the Nov. 22 issue of The Hurricane.
Patricia Mazzei can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.