Pomona Offers Tenure to Six Professors, Addresses Faculty Diversity Question

Six Pomona College faculty members were given tenure this month, having been promoted from assistant to associate professor.

The six professors are Lisa Anne Auerbach in the art department, Colin Beck in sociology, Jessica L. Borelli in psychology, Pierangelo De Pace in economics, Michael J. Green in philosophy and Julie Tannenbaum in philosophy.

“Tenure is the most important achievement in an academic’s life,” De Pace said.

De Pace said that tenure is important because it gives professors the luxury of time. Now that he has tenure, De Pace looks forward to taking more chances by pursuing “risky, long-term research.”

Beck wrote in an email to TSL that getting tenure did not affect his attitude or behavior toward his work.

“The biggest misconception about tenure is that it’s a game changer for an academic,” Beck wrote. “A successful promotion basically says ‘we like what you’re doing, keep it up.’”

All six professors promoted this semester are white. Interim Dean of the College Elizabeth Crighton said that the recruitment process takes on a bigger role in creating a diverse faculty than promotions do.

“We have rigorous faculty hiring processes that enable us to track how effectively we’re looking at diverse faculty while, at the same time, looking for excellent faculty, because the two go together,” Crighton said. “We never want to separate the two.”

According to the 2012-13 report by the President’s Advisory Committee on Diversity, Pomona had one of the highest percentages of underrepresented minorities in faculty among peer institutions. However, the committee found it concerning that the percentage of underrepresented minorities holding assistant professorships had dropped below 6%, down from 23% the year before.

When asked why no professors of color were promoted this semester, Crighton said that there is “an element of chance.”

“With a small faculty and with a small number of promotions in any given year, it’s not unusual that one would find this,” Crighton said. “But, ideally, we will find that in the future, if we work hard, we will manage to promote and tenure far more diverse faculty.”

Faculty are usually considered for tenure during their sixth year. Between 2008 and 2012, Pomona had not hired any faculty belonging to underrepresented minorities to a tenure track position, according to the President’s Advisory Committee on Diversity’s 2013 report. The college had hired tenure-track faculty from underrepresented minorities by the 2014-15 school year.

Beck, De Pace and Tannenbaum were in agreement of the fact that the promotion process was transparent for them.

“It’s all very clear,” Tannenbaum said. “There’s … no question when they will happen.”

Tenure is usually decided after five years of employment, but De Pace said that it can take up to 10 years to publish research in a top journal. As a result, professors often feel pressured to work only on research that will yield quick results.

The penultimate decision of promotion rests with the Cabinet, a group that consists of the President, the Dean of the College, the Dean of Students, all faculty at the rank of full professor who have held the position for at least a year and the Faculty Personnel Committee, an elected committee comprised of nine tenured professors. The final approval lies with the Board of Trustees.

“This is good in that it keeps the recommendation in the hands of the faculty where it belongs, but the faculty should be exploring ways of diversifying the membership of the Cabinet so that it doesn’t just represent where the College was 20 years ago,” Beck wrote.

One method of assessing the quality of professors’ teaching is through student surveys that are sent out to both current students and past students, even those who have since graduated. De Pace said that a lack of responses from past students can reflect poorly on professors, even if they are great teachers.

“I believe that the college, in general, could do just a little better job of contacting students who have already graduated,” De Pace said.

Tannenbaum hopes to partner with the Draper Center to pursue a long-term project. Her plan is to teach a class on bioethics, and then send her students into local high schools to teach bioethics classes of their own.

Instead of discussing plans for the future, Beck took the opportunity to reflect on the past.

“Getting tenure is a bit bittersweet, as I’m reminded of my friend [former Assistant Professor of English] Hillary Gravendyk who passed away last May,” he wrote. “She and I came to Pomona at the same time, so under different circumstances we would have been tenured at the same time. I would’ve liked to share this milestone with her.”

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