Academic freedom allows professors to research and explore controversial or divisive topics related to their department without fear of persecution.
Academic tenure is the means by which academic freedom is achieved.
Lisa Weston, president of the Fresno State chapter of the California Faculty Association, has been tenured for nearly 20 of her 26 years at Fresno State. Weston, an English professor, believes that a high-quality tenure system is necessary for superior education.
“Tenure ensures that [professors’] teaching is solid and they are providing valuable services to the university,” Weston said. “It also gives the professors some security of employment and more freedom to engage in controversial projects.”
Weston said to become tenured, professors must go through a challenging probationary period where their performance in the classroom and in their field of research is reviewed numerous times.
“Probationary professors are reviewed numerous times ensuring that they are conducting research that is meaningful and they are getting results,” Weston said.
Weston said once a professor becomes tenured it is very difficult for them to be fired. Weston has not seen a tenured professor laid-off in the time she has been at Fresno State. Weston added that becoming tenured is not an easy task.
“If you’re a rubbish teacher, then you’re not going to be tenured faculty,” Weston said. “If you’re doing research and it is quality, and it is peer-reviewed then you can be granted tenure. Barring something terrible or catastrophic happening, or really serious budget cuts, you know you have a job.”
Weston believes that Fresno State has a very fair and balanced tenure process but also feels that the professors should receive more compensation for their work.
“I think we should be paid more,” Weston said. “I think the workload has changed and we do significantly more research, and that needs to be taken into consideration.”
Associate vice president for Academic Personnel Services Janette Redd Williams said the tenure system creates an exceptional academic atmosphere.
“Our tenured faculty is a set of people with a longterm interest in their departments and in their students,” Williams said. “Our tenured professors are caretakers of academic standards and curriculum.”
Williams also said that tenured professors have been protected from the recent budget cuts. She said that none have been terminated, and that the administration does not see any tenured professors being laid off in the future.
“No tenured or probationary faculty has been laid off,” Williams said. “We weren’t able to bring back seven faculty members at the beginning of the year. However, we were able to offer four of them part-time positions.”
Williams said that this semester, no faculty members were laid off because of stimulus money.
“I don’t see any lay-offs next fall either. We do have some flexibility as the budget expands and contracts,” Williams said.
Williams added that while tenure does give faculty members job security it can also have its downsides.
“One of the challenges can be keeping the faculty engaged with the campus,” Williams said. “Interest can sort of wax and wane and professors get in a routine. Sometimes you need to renew yourself.”