Sanders appeals CAP’s tenure decision

As the semester draws to a close, the tenure appeal decision of Nathan Sanders, assistant professor of Linguistics, is yet to be decided. Upon receiving word from the Committee on Appointments and Promotions (CAP) in February that Sanders had not received tenure, the campus witnessed a swell of support that came from many of Sanders’ students [“Students react to tenure denial,” Feb. 18, 2009]. Sanders recently confirmed that he has decided to appeal the CAP’s decision in a statement:
“Building and running the Linguistics Program for the past six years has been an immensely rewarding endeavor, but it’s also been incredibly demanding and exhausting. In most cases, there are usually very good reasons to let a tenure decision stand and just move on,” Sanders wrote. “For me, moving on would allow me to live closer to my family and get a lower-stress job working fewer hours for the same salary. But the words of support I’ve gotten from colleagues, students, alums and parents have helped remind me why I belong at Williams, why the program I’ve built has been so beneficial for the College, and why I love teaching here. Inspired by that support, I have decided to appeal the decision in my tenure case.”

A professor who is initially declined tenure by the CAP as Sanders was has two recourses. First, he or she may write to the dean of the faculty and request a reconsideration of the CAP decision. If this request is not granted, the applicant must petition the Steering Committee to establish a review panel, which has the power to “request the President to initiate reconsideration of the decision by the department concerned and by the CAP.”

There are two ways in which the appeals committee can find the CAP decision wanting. It can decide that “improper consideration” has taken place, which is defined in the handbook as “considerations violative of academic freedom” or anti-discrimination policies. It may also find that “inadequate consideration” has taken place, a much vaguer standard. The handbook appears to follow the example of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in defining “adequate consideration” in “such a way as to underline the centrality of procedural matters – It does not mean that the review committee should substitute its own judgment for that of members of the department on the merits of whether the candidate should be reappointed or given tenure.” It is unclear what would happen in the event that the CAP and Sanders’ evaluative committee were found to have arrived at differing judgements on whether or not he should be offered tenure.

There have been three tenure appeals in recent history at the College. One, that of Bojana Mladenovic, professor of philosophy, was successful. As is the case of Sanders, the initial Mladenovic decision prompted widespread reaction from her students. Chris Carrier ’09, a philosophy major who was active in protesting the decision not to tenure Mladenovic, said, “That there was such a rally of support for Prof. Mladenovic in the wake of her tenure rejection is testament to the fact that excellent teaching is rewarded with deep student loyalty at place like Williams.”

Reached by e-mail at the time of the decision, Mladenovic indicated her strong support of Sanders. “We in the Philosophy Department found his courses a great contribution to our offerings. If he doesn’t get tenure, it will be a great loss for us, as well as for the College as a whole,” she said. “He created, sustained and led linguistics and all students attracted to it. I very much hope that his appeal will be successful.”

Mladenovic had little to say about her own appeal process. “Williams’ rules of confidentiality regarding the tenure process and decision are the most secretive in the country,” she wrote in the e-mail. “The consequence of this unnecessary secrecy is that I know very little about my own tenure decisions and reconsiderations, and what I do know I cannot tell you.” Neither Mladenovic nor the CAP commented on whether her application had received “inadequate” or “improper” consideration. Mladenovic said she wasn’t sure if student support had helped her case with the CAP, but she described being moved by a male student who, upon learning that she had not received tenure, began crying. “Students’ support warms the heart,” she said.

Dean Wagner, when asked if he thought Williams’ tenure procedures were uncommonly secretive responded, “The level of confidentiality in our process is similar to that at many institutions, particularly our peer institutions. The primary objective of preserving confidentiality throughout the process is to ensure that, so far as possible, at every stage everyone involved expresses their views and evaluative judgements openly and completely candidly.”