Tenure and competition

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Tenure and competition

Seoul National University is making bold moves to enhance its tenure evaluation system in order to make faculty members more competitive. In the spring term this year, many of its professors did not make tenure for the first time since the founding of the school, shocking the entire university.

Chancellor Lee Jang-moo said that was only a “warning” of what would follow. And early this month, the university announced a raft of new measures.

A committee tasked with deliberating on promotions and another for tenure evaluation have been formed. It is now mandatory for associate professors to undergo evaluations to decide if they are eligible to be promoted to full professors. This broke with the old practice in which once promoted to professor, tenure is automatically guaranteed.

The tenure evaluation committee has two members from foreign universities as well as faculty members. This serves two purposes: to apply international standards, and to ensure that professors cannot take advantage of personal networks.

SNU feels that faculty members need to be competitive in order for the university to be internationally competitive. With a system in which professors automatically make tenure after having worked for a certain number of years, it can’t possibly compete against foreign universities. For example, half of Harvard University’s professors don’t make tenure.

Moreover, as SNU has declared intentions of hiring 100 non-Korean professors, it believes that applying international standards to professor evaluations is only sensible.

It is worth noting that the professors themselves have accepted the new measures. Many initially said that it was too drastic a change. However, their attitudes have changed, and they are now responding positively. Yesterday, for instance, the social studies department held a debate about tenure and how the criteria for tenure evaluation can reflect the special characteristics of each department.

Other universities must follow suit. Last year, the Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology rejected the tenure applications of 15 professors. More universities are not rehiring professors with poor research records.

But this is still not good enough to change the old practice of entrenchment in the professors’ community. Universities will only become competitive when professors feel they themselves have to compete.
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