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The Griffin Editorial: Our Flawed Tenure System

Last week, The Griffin learned that our advisor, Dan Higgins, has been denied tenure here at Canisius. He is also the head of the journalism department. Considering how many of us on The Griffin staff are journalism majors, this is obviously a big deal to us. Writing from a personal perspective, the first college class I ever walked into was a Dan Higgins class, and I have had at least one class with him during all but one semester. This news was also a big shock to us, and that he would be denied tenure when he’s such a huge part of the campus — and the journalism department — came completely out of the blue.


I personally hold Dan Higgins in the highest regard. When I was deciding on colleges, I remember having a conversation with my parents that tipped the scales in Canisius’s favor. They talked about the smaller class sizes and the personal connections you could make with professors through that, and I bought into it and decided to come here. Now having completed three years here, I know that my parents were right in their pitch: none of my professors are more proof of that than Dan Higgins is. Every fellow student I’ve had the chance to talk to so far feels the same. Needless to say, we feel that if anybody here deserved their tenure application to be accepted, it was certainly Dan Higgins.


The faculty body evidently also holds Higgins in high regard. To earn tenure at Canisius is a long process, one which requires much fellow faculty input. Our understanding is that a tenure application passes first to the department, and then to the tenure board. Dan got approval from these groups twice: first when his tenure application was initially accepted and sent to the Office of the President for approval, and second — when that application was denied — he appealed it to a board of faculty members who judge such appeals and won.


Why, then, did his tenure application get denied, if it had passed all of the other levels of approval? It was vetoed by President Stoute. This veto means that Dan has to figure out his next professional step, because he’s being forced to leave Canisius in one year.  


We will not speculate on why the groups that know Dan and his work best approved his tenure but President Stoute did not. We do, however, question the wisdom of not only the veto of Dan Higgins’s application itself, but also the wisdom of giving a school president this kind of veto power in general. We wonder at how Stoute, walking into the position just two years ago, has the power to end the seven-year career of a department director who is clearly loved and highly respected. The job of a school president is naturally a busy one. It is hard to imagine that the president of any school has a perspective on the in-and out-of-classroom learning environment of their school so superior to that of multiple panels of the school’s faculty as to possess a veto over them. That environment must be the top priority of Canisius, because the main reason for Canisius’s (or any school’s) existence is for students to learn. 


Any learning environment that has Dan Higgins in it is exponentially better for it: Higgins’s students see it, his fellow faculty see it, the tenure committee sees it, the school president does not. That is a shame. Dan Higgins will be fine, but the whole of Canisius University, especially the students, are much worse off because of this decision.


-JPD

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5 Comments


Justine Melo
Justine Melo
May 16

Many at the college have been hoping that the administration would start to make smart, ethical, and professional faculty retention decisions with the former VPAA departed for a barren island. Perhaps she trained the new president. Respect for shared governance is a value, an ethos that demonstrates a faithful commitment to "cura personalis" beyond empty words. Cura personalis: care for the whole person. Which person? Who would they be? Students? Faculty? Staff? Who is this beneficiary of compassion, competence, conscience, and care? Canisius has many fine faculty who give students their all. Shouldn't a college administration support and protect its most dedicated citizen-scholars as part of fulfilling that promise to its students? This college's administration prefers to fire them.

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potatomasher2727
May 14

Great editorial, thanks to all who had a hand in writing it and saying what needed to be said. No one deserves to be treated the way Higgins has been treated. And this from a place that claims to care about people. I spent this year thinking The Griffin was just an administration mouthpiece. I guess I have to rethink that after reading this. I hope you can sustain the role of speaking truths that need to be said but you should be watchful because Dictator Stoute will be coming for you as he has come at all who oppose him. I wouldn't be surprised to see a whole new editorial board with an advisor who will toe the line next…

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Concerned.International.Scholar
May 12

Every candidate for tenure gets reviewed annually for up to 7 years by their department, Dean, and the Status Committee.

In the last year those all go up to the President with a rec for tenure or denial. So there should not be surprises (you would know if you are going to have a clear yes, no, or “it’s a close call,” LONG before it happens). For a President to ignore 7 years of feedback and assessment out of the blue is a sign of something gone terribly wrong, and/or a personal vendetta.

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Concerned.International.Scholar
May 12

The words “healthy relationship” are key.

After a decade of Hurley prioritizing personal loyalty over competency and blaming faculty for anything and everything (unless your name was Noonan), the culture is toxic.

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lcgreen98
May 11

The tenure process is flawed on many levels, yet it persists this way in schools all over the country. There should be no surprises. Even in a regular staff annual performance appraisal there are rarely surprises because if it’s a healthy relationship, those responsible for mentoring and leading the staff member have been in constant communication about where things are falling short. How can a person who, by the faculty’s standards, be so highly regarded for their work over a multi-year period only to be surprised at the end by someone who does not assess the faculty member’s performance regularly (or directly)? It makes you wonder what else is at play, and whether it has anything to do with t…

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