I have recently seen a copy of DePaul University President Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M. letter of June 8, 2007 that notified Professor Mehrene Larudee of her denial of tenure. The letter is strikingly terse and shockingly laconic and I believe unethical. The denial-of-tenure letter contains sixteen lines of full text and ONE sentence explaining the reasons for denial of tenure and promotion. It referred to student course evaluations “at times below the departmental mean,” and an allegation that her scholarship was “thin.” That is it; that is how a president of a Vincentian university communicates to a faculty member a devastating decision of a denial of promotion and tenure. It is almost risible that a university would use a statistical assessment in student course evaluations to deny a person tenure. To think that falling “at times” below the mean would be used as grounds to deny tenure is clearly unacceptable.
There is not one word of criticism about her teaching that is substantive. No reference to pedagogy, no reference to syllabi, no reference to teaching style, no reference to subject matter, no reference to variety or lack thereof of courses taught, no reference to numbers of students or quality of advising. The DePaul president also describes without explanation his criticism of “mixed teaching evaluations.” Tenure is not a popularity contest and student evaluations should be construed as one of MANY criteria in assessing teaching. To affirm that a faculty member is fired due to a mean score is highly irregular if not a “red herring” for perhaps deeper, hidden agendas in this matter. I have never seen in my academic career such an incomplete assessment. Note, that the only manifestation of her teaching that is even mentioned is course evaluations and no substantive data from those evaluations are even alluded to.
Her scholarship is merely dismissed with the perfunctory observation as “thin.” No specifics, no explanation, no scholarly criticism of her work are offered as substantive argumentation. Also it should be emphasised that Dr Larudee’s International Studies Programme, the College of Liberal Arts and Science Personnel Committee and Dean Chuck Suchar supported her tenure. Also the University Board on Promotion and Tenure issued a decision with a dissenting minority. Some affirmed her qualifications for tenure. Some did not.
Transparency is the sine qua non of professionalism when rendering decisions and is a basic right of due process. It certainly was absent in Reverend Holtschneider’s denial-of-tenure missive and suggests a lack of care and dedication to a full and clear exposition of the reasons for the denial of tenure. My understanding, which will hopefully be more concrete in future observations, is that a sustained and positive review of Dr Larudee’s teaching and scholarship was issued at the programme and college level.