News | Academics

Columbia hiring on the decline

The economic crisis has steepened a decline in tenure cases evaluated from year to year, as well as outside faculty recruitment, administrators said.

According to Senior Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg, the number of cases being reviewed have dropped, though there have been greater cuts in the number of outside hires.

“For the five or six years before the economic crisis, our average case load was close to 90, and the average number of reviews we did in a year was 64. This year, those numbers are going to decline even further. … I would expect that we would be working on a little less than 70 cases, and we will probably complete around 50 reviews,” Rittenberg said.

Barnard Provost Elizabeth Boylan said that though the crisis has affected tenure, Barnard cut costs in other areas to protect current faculty. “All the faculty and staff received no increase in salary last year, so everyone shared in the financial difficulties,” she wrote in an email.

“When we hire people on tenure-track, we are making a commitment to them that, absent a declaration of financial exigency, we will consider them for tenure on their individual merits,” Boylan said.

At Barnard, departments nominate their candidates to the Advisory Committee on Appointments, Tenure and Promotion. If its recommendation to the Barnard president is positive and she concurs, the case goes to an ad hoc committee at Columbia, which then recommends to the Columbia provost, who subsequently recommends to the Columbia president. The candidate will then be voted tenure by both the Barnard and Columbia boards of trustees if all these decisions are in favor of the candidate.

The process is similar at Columbia, except that the ad hoc system is administered by the senior vice provost and candidates only require approval from the Columbia board of trustees.

Professors said that while they expected the recession to cut into hiring, they did not anticipate it having an affect on the tenure process.

“While the current economy is affecting hiring of new faculty, I expect it to have no effect on the tenure process,” Barnard chemistry professor Sally Chapman wrote in an email.

Allan Nevins Professor of History and Provost Emeritus Alan Brinkley expressed a similar sentiment, stating that he was unconcerned that the current economy would impact tenure.
But the job market may have been more affected by the economic crisis than tenure has been.

“I think the main impact has been indirect, that is, on the job market,” department chair and associate professor of political science Sheri Berman wrote. “So academics looking for jobs right out of grad school, or those who lose their jobs [because they didn’t get tenure] have been significantly affected.”

“The conventional wisdom around tenure at the Ivy League is that your best bet is to get a competing offer from another top school,” assistant sociology professor Shamus Khan wrote. “That is, you demonstrate your tenurability through your marketability. But the market for jobs doesn’t exist. And it’s hard to show you’re marketable when there’s no market.”

But David Helfand, professor and chair of the astronomy department, said that fully endowed chairs—a position that is paid for with income from an endowment fund set aside for that specific purpose—cannot be filled by others.

“Since the terms of the gift created a very specific purpose in a specific department you can’t use the money for anything else,” Helfand said. “For any other senior position that you want to make an open ad, or someone that you happen to know wants to come here, both of those have been drastically restricted, almost eliminated, I would say.” Helfand has notably refused to take tenure himself.

Candidates for tenure come are either junior faculty or faculty brought in from other universities. According to Rittenberg, over the last two years, there has been a sharp decline in the number of scholars recruited from other schools.

“Once you come in as a junior faculty, as long as you do well and you’re given a lot of support and mentoring, you will be considered for possible nomination for tenure,” Rittenberg said. “You see the decline among the candidates who are recruited from other universities,” stressing that this is determined more by departments and schools.

Both Rittenberg and Boylan said that the endowment has not had a direct effect on tenure.

“There isn’t a direct one-to-one relation between endowment income and recruitment to tenure,” Rittenberg said. “However, the payout rate that the endowment generated decreased last year by 8 percent over the amount it generated the year before, and we’re looking at a further decrease this year.”

“Barnard’s small endowment has constrained our planning in many ways over the years, but the large drop in the markets did not have as large an impact on our operating budget, since we rely on the endowment for relatively little of our annual expenses,” Boylan said.

Rittenberg said that in anticipation of a decline in case loads, Columbia is planning to identify any cases that may not go through.

“We’re asked to prepare for a considerable number of reviews that don’t actually lead to an evaluation, because the candidate chooses not to accept an offer, or because, in the case of junior faculty, the department decides that a candidate didn’t qualify to be nominated for tenure,” he said.

Barnard will focus on mentoring faculty more before they seek tenure.

“What we have been working on recently is to ensure pre-tenure mentoring of faculty who are hired in a department, but also teach in an interdisciplinary program,” Boylan said. “We have developed new guidelines for the involvement of the interdisciplinary program director at the time of hiring, at the third year review, and at the tenure-decision stages.

In the next few years, Rittenberg foresees the number of case loads remaining at the same level.

“We’re still struggling with budgetary problems, which have an impact on those decisions about employment,” Rittenberg said. “For the next few years, the level of activity in tenuring faculty is going to be around what it has been for the last two years.”


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CU_Alum posted on

The article presumes that tenure reviews and outside hiring are distinct from one another, but that is not true. When the university brings someone in as a full professor, the process includes a tenure review. The reason Columbia is conducting fewer tenure reviews this year is surely because fewer outside candidates are being considered for senior positions. I very much doubt that any internal candidates are being denied tenure (or even tenure reviews) due to the economy.