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Friday, May 27, 2022

Professors dimming the lights and reading off PowerPoint slides is nothing new to college students, but a new study from Northwestern University states a teacher’s underperformance might be due to tenure.

The study followed freshman students of tenured and nontenured faculty, rating the teachers by the students’ grades and how many of them took upper-level courses in the same field after completing the introductory class. Tenured teachers were found to do poorly on both fronts, as opposed to adjunct or nontenured professors.

But Marc Heft, senior chairman of UF’s Faculty Senate, said giving a professor tenure doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to become bad teachers.

“It’s not a fair assessment to say that once people get tenure they don’t care about anything anymore,” Heft said. “Some of the most outstanding teachers I’ve met are highly established tenured faculty members.”

He said the concept of tenure is a peer-review process where professors are judged on their mentorship, teaching and research, among other things. Professors who achieve tenure, typically after a seven-year period, are given security in that their salaries are guaranteed by the university.

“It’s a bidirectional commitment,” Heft said. “It’s saying ‘we believe in you,’ while you give us your best work.”

He said not all faculty is brought on to teach, which is why some students might be dissatisfied with their lecturers. Faculty brought on for research are primarily assigned a specific role while also undertaking a lecture, as opposed to professors who are expected to both teach and conduct research.

He said the issue of tenure doesn’t separate the good teachers from the bad but is instead a case-by-case basis.

“When I was in school, I had my share of good and bad teachers,” Heft said. “To say that just because someone becomes tenured they change what they do, is wrong.”

Barbara Romanova, a 21-year-old UF psychology senior, said her experiences with tenured professors are typically good. She said she heard mixed reviews about a tenured professor at UF, but her time in his class went well.

“It gives them a sense of job security that allows them to say, ‘I’m going to give it my all,’” Romanova said.

Andrew Kerr, a 20-year-old UF computer engineer junior, said whether tenure makes for a bad teacher depends entirely on the professor.

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“I’ve had crappy professors that I know for a fact weren’t tenured,” he said. “But I’ve never encountered a professor I knew was tenured and didn’t do a good job.”

A version of this story ran on page 1 on 9/12/2013 under the headline "Tenured faculty make for worse teachers"

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