What is the role of the university president in tenure decisions?
- Lafayette College is profiled in Inside Higher Ed after a recent decision by President Alison Byerly to overturn the tenure decision of Professor Juan Rojo, citing poor student evaluations.
- The decision against Rojo, who earned unanimous affirmation from several faculty review panels, was upheld in an appeal to the school's board of trustees, which called for a campus-wide dialog on how to improve understanding of the review system.
- Rojo told Inside Higher Ed that the presidential role in the promotion process appears to have been an overreach in his case. “The role of the president is understood by the faculty to be limited,” he said. “The faculty's reading of ‘compelling reasons’ differs dramatically from both the board's and the president's. So much so that over 100 faculty members have urged both the president and the board to change their positions based on what they perceive as presidential overreaching.”
Student evaluations could be a metric of teaching excellence, but their arbitrary and subjective nature should not be a heavy criterion in career decisions, as it appears to be at Lafayette. Other institutions should learn from this example that some decisions are not about the action but about the justification of the action, real or perceived.
Without an in-depth view of the finances at Lafayette College, but with an understanding of the changing view of faculty compensation and salary models in higher education, this decision could be viewed by many observers to be a referendum on the discipline — Rojo is a professor of Spanish — rather than the acumen of the professor, and to avoid that kind of thinking, careful consideration must be put into explaining a decision, and not the executive privilege to make it.
- Inside Higher Ed Presidential Vetoes and Tenure