The article mentioned yesterday also featured these thought fron Jonathan Conning, turned down for tenure by the economics department:

Conning said that his denial came as a “big surprise,” and indicated that he would appeal the CAP’s decision.

“From the communication I’d had with the department I had been led to expect a different outcome,” said Conning, citing very positive departmental reports in the last few years and a significant improvement in SCS scores.

“I think I’ve had as much success and influence in my own field at this stage in my career as anyone else in [the economics] department has had in their own,” he said.

Conning said that the reason given to him for the denial was that, “while [the CAP] recognized that [his] teaching had improved recently, they did not think it had risen to a sufficient level.”

Professors can only appeal a denial of tenure on procedural grounds; they can not, in Conning’s words, “question [the CAP’s] judgment.” Conning expressed optimism that he could “put together a well-reasoned case” and said that he “has faith in the methods put into place for an appeal.”


1) You have to feel for Conning. Being denied tenure (after 10+ years of graduate school and teaching) is a brutal experience.

2) It is nice to see that Conning has bounced back. He is now an assistant professor at Hunter College. Given his publication record, I would wager that he’ll either get tenure at Hunter or some place like it. He is lucky to be in economics since the job market for economists is much better than those for most other Division I and II fields.

3) Reading between the lines, it seems clear that the College made the right decision. Conning’s teaching evaluations were not good, although perhaps they had been improving in the last few years. Only excellent teachers should be given tenure. Of course, we can quibble about precisely what makes for an excellent teacher and the trade-offs among different aspects of teaching ability — i.e., how valuable is skill in teaching ECON 110 relative to a talent in supervising senior theses? But the central focus on a person’s influence on undergraduate education is key. Although the decision on Conning makes it clear that teaching matters (back in the 1980’s, teaching ability was described to me as “first among equals” in the tenure process), I would argue that the college should go even further in this direction, that the fact that Conning was hired is a sign that the college, or at least the economics department, puts too much emphasis on research ability and potential.

4) I would wager that Conning’s difficulties as a teacher were obvious before he ever set foot in a Williams classroom. So, while the college deserves credit for not tenuring him, it deserves criticism for hiring him in the first place. I would wager that the economics department turned down other candidates with better (obvious or demonstrated) teaching ability in order to hire Conning. The students who had Conning as a professor would have been better off if the economics department had put more emphasis on teaching and less emphasis on research in their hiring process.

5) Of course, it is tough to really know what is going on without having better sources closer to the action . . .

Print  •  Email