A Senior Williams Professor and I will be debating the following resolution: Resolved: Williams is disintegrating. Each Monday, one of us will make an argument. One week later, the other will respond. We will debate until we grow bored with the exercise. Readers are welcome to chime in at any time. Senior Professor went first. His words from last week are in quote blocks.

The College has abandoned its traditional standards for tenure for faculty.

Evidence? I have spoken with lots of Williams faculty and heard many complaints. I have never heard one claim that tenure standards are lower today than they were, at Williams, in the past. If anything, the consensus view is that tenure standards, especially for publications, are much higher now then they were in the 80s, much less the 50s.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, one in four of faculty members who stood for tenure received it. Note that a normal core of junior faculty hired consisted of 20 assistant professors. Half of these would wash out at the 3-year renewal mark, leaving 10 in the cohort who would apply for tenure in their sixth year. Only four of those who stood for tenure would receive it. This was the historical norm at Williams College.

I have heard similar numbers. Indeed, a (different!) senior professor suggested that this change was one of the two biggest in the last 30 years — the other being increased diversity among the students.

2. What is the current rate of tenure at Williams College? There is no longer a 3-year washout of faculty hired. Essentially anyone hired eventually stands for tenure six years after hire.

3. As best as one can tell, 98 percent of those faculty who stand for tenure receive it. In the few instances where faculty are denied, several are given tenure after appeals.

98% is a dramatic overestimate. The real number is much closer to 75%. See the detailed evidence provided by BN. Also note this comment:

Most top universities have tenure rates in the 70-90% range these days. Williams does not look to be at all unusual in that sense.

Correct. If a higher tenure rate is causing Williams to disintegrate, why don’t we see the same thing at Amherst and Harvard?

But none of that matters! It is possible to have lax standards and only tenure 10% (if the initial pool you hire from is week). It is possible — and is the case at Williams today — to have rigorous standards and tenure 75% if your initial pool is very strong.

But we are only going to make progress with specific examples. Consider Political Science in 2017-2018:

There are two associate professors: Justin Crowe and Ngonidzashe Munemo. Laura Ephraim just received tenure last year and is now an associate professor. Compare this listing to the halcyon days of higher standards in 1987-1988, thirty years ago:

Annoyingly, there were no associate professors that year. But Raymond Baker and Richard Krouse were associate professors just a few years earlier, while Tim Cook and Mike MacDonald would be tenured in the next few years. Let’s look at selected publications from Crowe, Ephraim, and Munemo:

Crowe:

Building the Judiciary: Law, Courts, and the Politics of Institutional Development (Princeton University Press, 2012).

“Westward Expansion, Preappointment Politics, and the Making of the Southern Slaveholding Supreme Court,” Studies in American Political Development 24:1 (April 2010): 90-120.

“Where Have You Gone, Sherman Minton? The Decline of the Short-Term Supreme Court Justice,” with Christopher F. Karpowitz, Perspectives on Politics 5:3 (September 2007): 425-445.

“The Forging of Judicial Autonomy: Political Entrepreneurship and the Reforms of William Howard Taft,” Journal of Politics 69:1 (February 2007): 73-87.
Political Science

Ephraim:

Archer, Crina & Ephraim, Laura & Maxwell, Lida. Second Nature: Rethinking the Natural through Politics. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013.

Who Speaks for Nature?: On the Politics of Science, by Laura Ephraim, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.

Munemo

Munemo, Ngonidzashe. Domestic Politics and Drought Relief in Africa : Explaining Choices. First Forum Press, 2012.

How Will Climate Change Transform Governance and Regional Security in Southern Africa?” in Daniel Moran ed. Climate Change and National Security: A Country Level Analysis. (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2011)

“Social Protection in Post-Crisis Zimbabwe: Challenges and Priorities for Reform,” in Dr. Admos Chimhowu ed. Moving Forward in Zimbabwe – Reducing Poverty and Promoting Growth. (Manchester, U.K.: Brooks World Poverty Institute, The University of Manchester 2009)

Munemo N. (2008) Political Incumbency and Drought Relief in Africa. In: Barrientos A., Hulme D. (eds) Social Protection for the Poor and Poorest. Palgrave Studies in Development. Palgrave Macmillan, London

We can quibble about these CVs. And note that I have not listed everything. But are they any less impressive than the CVs of the junior political science professors like Baker, Krouse, MacDonald and Cook at Williams 30 years ago? No!

I am happy to dive into the details for any department that Senior Professor prefers. A careful examination will show that the publication records of those tenured at Williams today are every bit as good as those tenured in the 1980s, much less then 1950s. To the extent that anything is “disintegrating” at Williams, we don’t see it in faculty research quality.

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