Academic Freedom


A faculty member was hired as a tenured track faculty in the department Chemistry. During the interview process, the members of the faculty discussed the research direction and niche of the department with all of the applicants including the selected applicant. After securing the position, the faculty member proceeds to publish and secure sponsored research in the area of chemistry education. The university does not have a program in the area nor has anyone expressed interest in such a program. When the tenure review is conducted, the faculty member is heavily criticized by his or her peers for not contributing to the overall research agenda of the department and college. The faculty member argues that it is his or her academic freedom to conduct research in any area he or she sees fit. What would you recommend?


You get a call from a colleague that has to do with discrepancies between two sets of records. “I’ve got a faculty member who’s a real pain,” your friend begins, “abrasive, suspicious, unsociable, and constantly disruptive in meetings. A terrible colleague. As if it weren’t bad enough, there is much I can point to that’s been unsuccessful in this person’s record. Teaching, research, and service is weak across the board. There is absolutely nothing redeemable about this person.” “Is the faculty member tenured?” you ask. “Of course! Otherwise I would’ve dealt with this problem long ago. Anyway, just over a year ago, this faculty member applied for a job at another university more than five hundred miles away. Seeing this as a chance to get rid of a disaster, I wrote an absolutely glowing letter of recommendation. I thought I could get that other school to hire our problem and improve our area. But as you can imagine, the interview didn’t go well, and that other job never materialized. Now here’s my big problem: somehow the faculty member got a copy of my letter. I have to deal with a grievance filed against me because my review was so positive in the letter of recommendation but strongly negative in the annual review I wrote only a few days ago.” How would you help your friend deal with this complex problem?


You had expected the first evaluation to go smoothly because everything you had to report was positive. The faculty member is excellent in teaching, has recently received significant grants that have resulted in important publications, and is regularly the most valuable member on committees. But after you congratulate the faculty member all these accomplishments, you’re surprised by the reaction; “Then why didn’t I get a larger raise this year? I know I’m getting a bigger increase than everyone else in my department but it’s still not enough. If I’ve done as well as you said, I’m offended that you’re not following all those compliments with news of a significant salary adjustment.” How would you respond?

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One colleague works at a university that’s rapidly trying to change its reputation from that of an exceptionally fine teaching institution to that of a widely recognized research university. He or she is reviewing a faculty member who didn’t achieve any of the previous year’s goals in the area of research but did win a prestigious national award for excellence in teaching. Your colleague is at a loss over how to address the faculty member’s simultaneous failure to engage in scholarly research.  What would you recommend?