APS News

APS Executive Board Appoints Task Force on Academic Tenure

The APS Executive Board has appointed a Task Force on Academic Tenure to grapple with the active and sometimes acrimonious debate on the need for change in the academic tenure system, especially since the suggested changes could have an impact on the ability of universities to perform scientific research. Furthermore, the nature of physics research careers are changing and sometimes come into conflict with current and proposed tenure procedures.

Chaired by John Poate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the task force is charged with examining the present trends and proposed changes in the tenure system, and assessing how these might affect the vitality of research and teaching in physics. In addition, it is being asked to consider additional studies of these issues which might be underway by other scientific societies and professional organizations, and to conclude whether the issues are sufficiently urgent to warrant an official APS statement on the subject.

The connections between tenure, academic freedom, and economic security have existed for many years, and are very strong, according to Frank Franz, president of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (see back page article). "For most people, the strongest rationale for tenure is the maintenance of academic freedom for our faculty, and the concomitant freedom from coercion or persecution," he says. "Tenure... provides a powerful buffer against arbitrary and capricious acts by administrators or, indeed, by fellow faculty members. The questions most often raised are, does that protection come at too great a cost, and, if so, are there other ways to provide it?" Franz identifies post tenure review and the burden of proof, as well as standards for the removal of tenure, as among the most important issues at stake in considerations of tenure policies. A brief report will be presented to the APS Executive Board in September, with a final report to the APS Council slated for November. The other members of the task force are Robert Gluckstern (University of Maryland); Jolie Cizewski (Rutgers University); Steve Ralph (Emory University); Raymond Brock (Michigan State University); and Roger Falcone (University of California, Berkeley).

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin