Chapter 16: The Faculty Classification Committee and Related Issues with Tenure and Promotion

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Chapter 16: The Faculty Classification Committee and Related Issues with Tenure and Promotion

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In this chapter, Dr. Alexanian discusses the Faculty Classification Committee and its activities standardizing the guidelines for promotion and tenure across departments. He notes that MD Anderson's guidelines were less stringent than at Harvard or Yale Universities. Next he explains MD Anderson's term tenure system, made necessary when MD Anderson formally came under the governance of the University of Texas System. He describes the Committee's roles in the tenure process.

Identifier

Alexanian_R_02_20140605_S16

Publication Date

6-5-2014

Publisher

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Building the Institution; MD Anderson Culture; Building/Transforming the Institution; Institutional Processes

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Let’s see. There’s also this—I didn’t know what this committee was—Faculty Classification. What was that about?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

In order to have promotions, it used to be that if a department head wanted to promote a staff person, he could just promote him if the head administrator agreed and there was funding to support that new rank. Then it was decided—and I don’t know who it is, probably Dr. Clark or somebody like that said that we needed a committee for this review because why should such-and-such and his department promotes such-and-such a person who has done nothing, whereas this person who has done so much is overlooked. So there was a standardization by having a committee that would apply or attempt to apply consistent standards for promotion and appointments of people who come from elsewhere, who were appointed or promoted within the ranks, and that included tenure.

Now, the tenure is a whole different area of controversy we could talk about if you wanted to. It’s a whole historical story in itself. But the promotion required certain criteria for promotion, and this committee—and I think I was one of the first chairmen, I’m not sure, to have set certain standards for promotion. This included recommendations from your department head, but also a certain requirement for publications, sometimes grants, and national and international recognition somehow, by being appointed to committees or giving talks in Paris or something like that, so there’s some record, and so that this committee reviewed that and made a recommendation to the president that such-and-such be promoted or not promoted.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

How controversial was this?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

It could be very controversial. As time went on, most submissions were approved because department heads knew, were familiar with the criteria and says, “Oh, you could get by. You have this.” So, however, there were some who, since the committee was constituted by other senior people who also had their own junior staff who desired promotion, everyone was very anxious to apply the same standards across the board, said, “Don’t promote him if you don’t promote him.” So there was this general level of consistency. However, every so often, maybe once or two people every meeting, there was controversy and that person was not approved. That doesn’t mean he was forever—this is not approved at this year, but let’s wait for next year or the next year. So it was not approved for that at that time. So as time went on, most people were easily approved.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Were the guidelines themselves or the criteria [unclear]?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

They were written down.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

But were they themselves controversial?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

I don’t think so. I would say, in general, our criteria were less stringent for sure than Harvard or Yale or the most distinguished medical schools, so that promotion at this center was clearly easier than at a leading medical school. However, it had to be that way, because if you didn’t, then your staff would depart for another place. So, many times people were proposed for promotion and the department says, “This man has had offers from here, here, here, and here,” and say, “Look, if he’s not promoted, I’m going to lose him.” So that wasn’t the sole criteria. We still tried to be consistent, because you couldn’t allow or permit somebody to be promoted just because the department head says he thinks he’s going to lose him. He may not be. Who knows what the facts are.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Right.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

And says, “Well, how could you lose him? He hasn’t written anything. Harvard’s not going to appoint him, so where’s he going?”

So he says, “Well, he may go into private practice.” So, well, maybe that’s where he belongs.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Now, you mentioned the tenure issue.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

The tenure issue was a very controversial issue for a number of years, and it may still be. I don’t know.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

When was that, about?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Along the way, the title of the hospital became, instead of the MD Anderson Hospital, became the University of Texas MD Anderson Hospital. When you use the term “University,” then there’s a standardization of that term across all the universities in the State of Texas and perhaps around the country, that a university, if you’re going to call it a university, has to fulfill certain functions that include both research and education.

The research part was easy to fulfill. The education was a little more difficult because we did not have medical students, we had primarily postgraduate trainees, and so that the focus of education was on postgraduate trainees. And that didn’t mean you couldn’t get promoted just from the research, you could, certainly, as many Harvard professors don’t do any teaching, they just write books and write something like—so you could do the research and you didn’t have to do education. But let’s say if you were weak in research and you did a large amount of rounding with the residents, going to the medical school for lectures and all that, that counted as a balance for your research.

But then another requirement came, and this came somewhat suddenly—at least it seemed suddenly to me—the question of tenure. Tenure at most universities in the country is lifetime tenure for a faculty professor, and so therefore the State of Texas had to decide among the universities whether this would be a standard. The University of Texas at Austin and the major centers said, “Of course it has to be lifetime. We could not attract anyone here if it weren’t that.” So the major universities had lifetime tenure.

However, Dr. Clark objected to this. I think that’s public information. I don’t think that’s a secret. Dr. Clark and, I think, one other place in Texas—it could have been a place in West Texas, Permian Basin, something like that, I don’t know, one other place objected. So they appealed this decision, and they compromised on, “All right. Well, you’re a special case. We will permit seven-year tenure.” And Dr. Clark didn’t want any tenure.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Interesting.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Of course, as the founder and somewhat dominant figure, if you have tenure, then you lose control, right?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Right.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

I may have it wrong. He accepted seven-year tenure. And the reasoning, there are lots of critics of lifetime tenure as people just have it and don’t do anything for years, right?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Mm-hmm.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

You could have that, and in your career you’ve probably run into it more than I have. But the professors, I haven’t known any like that.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

I’ve known remarkably few, actually. I’ve known remarkably few who do that.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

There are a few.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

There are a few, but not as many, I think, as people imagine.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Imagine, yes.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

And particularly at an institution like this where people come here because they’re driven.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Yeah, they’re driven. But in some universities, they must have. They said they call it the woodwork?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Yeah, deadwood.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

The deadwood. Okay. So every university must have one or two like that, right?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Yeah.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Okay. So Dr. Clark didn’t want any of that, so he accepted seven-year tenure, and therefore the Faculty Classification would approve that feature, and that usually went automatically with a rank of associate professor or higher, the seven-year tenure. However, there were controversies even on that, because the—let me think if I remember. There was a loyalty component to tenure that as the Promotions Committee chairman, that was new to me, the loyalty factor.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Tell me more about that. I’m not sure what you mean.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

I wasn’t sure either, so I said, “What do you mean? What is a loyalty factor?”

Well, the loyalty factor is here’s a person in a person’s department who has the criteria for associate professor, he’s written a lot, but he is in a constant state of dispute with his chairman. He’s a rival. And the chairman refuses, he wants to dismiss him if he can, but he can’t. He’s very productive, he has grants, he’s a big-shot in his own way. He could be a department head anywhere. This didn’t come up very much. It did come up, though. He says, “Well, I’m not going to do it.”

So I says, “Why?”

So he says, “Oh, well, it’s going to be a mess here.”

So we couldn’t resolve that, of course. What the faculty chairman had to understand that that was a factor he had to deal with.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Was that something that people actually called it, they called it the loyalty factor, or is that your term for it?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

There was someone on our committee who used that. I mean, that’s an extreme example. There are other things like that. Let’s say somebody who’s doing work but is not working as a team person, he’s doing his own thing but would not cooperate fully. He wants to do his own way and is not working in the cooperative way I mentioned. So it’s really the department head’s choice. He’s faced with the challenge more than the Faculty Classification, but we would hear as these recommendations would come, recommendation for promotion but not tenure. See, there’s two parts to it.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

So you didn’t hear the tenure cases.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

We didn’t hear the tenure.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Okay.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Well, no, we would. We would just hear the recommendation. Then, however, there’s also a timeframe. If a person is on the staff and doesn’t have tenure by a certain time period, by the sixth year, they will never get the tenure. So there’s a clock.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

A tenure clock. Right.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Clock. So we are aware of this clock, and so you have to make the judgment on these difficult cases. “Look, the clock is running out here.” So in many cases, the department head is not aware as much as our committee is aware, and so he’s informed that there’s a clock ticking.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Okay. So you kind of were [unclear].

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Well, let’s say it’s a newly appointed department head who doesn’t bother with all these, newly appointed. He has to learn quickly as the staff is coming to promotion time what each person’s clock is. They learn this fairly quickly, and they also realize that you can do the promotion without the tenure or you can do them together. You can’t do the tenure without the promotion, because unless you’re at associate grade—so you can’t do—then there are curious things. There are assistant professors who are always assistant professors. They don’t do any research, because you have to have a professorial rank here [unclear], and that was also a requirement for the university title, all the semantics. I may have it garbled, but that’s essentially what I had to learn.

So there are people who are permanent assistant professors, and then the question is tenure. And the response is, well, if he’s only an assistant professor, we don’t usually give tenure if he doesn’t qualify for promotion. And these are people who are just doing only clinical work in the different departments, only, and they don’t write, they don’t teach, they don’t do anything else but see patients. And I don’t have to—it’s not any great secret that I don’t think these people belong here, but they are hired to do the work, and I think they’re hired because the department head doesn’t exert enough effort to get some young person who’s motivated and ambitious to replace these people. And there’s a certain inertia on personnel dealing that department heads have, as you may know. They just don’t want to fuss with it.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. What were some of the effects that tenure had? I mean, when this new tenure [unclear].

Raymond Alexanian, MD

It’s for seven-year blocks. Then you’re renewed.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Right. But once that happened and the faculty understood that that was the new environment they were working in, did it stimulate people to do research? Did people leave? I mean, what [unclear]?

Raymond Alexanian, MD

No, I don’t think it made—I think it satisfied. Those who met the tenure standard, who were tenured, didn’t care. They’d just get automatically renewed after seven years. They were usually the people working anyway. Now, sometimes a person, you reach a point—well, like for myself. I knew I was going to retire in, let’s say, at a certain time, and my time, the clock ran out two years before. I said, “Oh, don’t bother applying. Don’t send the paperwork in. It’s not worth it. Just let it go.”

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

It is a cumbersome process.

Raymond Alexanian, MD

Yes.

Chapter 16: The Faculty Classification Committee and Related Issues with Tenure and Promotion

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