Every spring, several large cartons arrive at the President’s House, containing the files of this year’s “class” of faculty seeking tenure and promotion. It is the last stage of a rigorous process that begins the day a person joins the North Central College faculty (most often, the tenure decision is made following a faculty member’s sixth year). It is my opportunity as president to go through files that have previously been read and discussed by the six members of the Faculty Personnel Committee and analyzed by Dean of Faculty R. Devadoss Pandian — files which reflect the judgments of academic department and division chairs over a period of years, as well as colleagues, students, alumni … and the candidates’ own analyses of their strengths and weaknesses, performance and promise.
It is always a humbling experience for me to read through the candidates’ essays and the material in their files, including the hundreds and hundreds of evaluation forms filled out by students after taking their classes. This is where the rubber hits the road — how a faculty member’s scholarship and pedagogy translate into inspiring teaching and effective advising. There is no more important task in any college or university than recruiting, nurturing and retaining first-rate faculty. During 14 springs, digging through many, many cartons, I have been inspired by the quality of the people who dedicate their lives to teaching at North Central, and the rigor of the evaluation process they go through.
At the most recent meeting of the Board of Trustees, Dean Pandian and three North Central professors presented an overview of our academic program. It provides useful context for understanding what so inspires me. In the nine years that Dr. Pandian has served as dean and vice president of academic affairs, the number of tenure-track faculty has increased by about 10 percent, to 95, and the percentage of credit hours taught by full-time faculty rose by 12 percent. During the 1995-96 academic year, the tenure-track faculty included 29 women and 58 men. By 2003-04, there were 42 women and 53 men. Over the same period, the percentage of tenure-track faculty with a terminal degree — usually a Ph.D. — went from 90 to 95 percent. Less than half (49 percent) of the 39 tenure-track faculty hired between 1991 and 1997 were awarded tenure. In 1995-96, 48 faculty utilized summer grants for research or scholarship; in 2002-03, 82 such grants were awarded.
These numbers cannot begin to convey what it takes to build and sustain a great teaching faculty — which was the focus of the Board presentations by Dr. Pandian and professors Fran Navakas, David Horner and Ann Durkin Keating — but they do suggest how much change occurs over time, and how the most important construction project on any college campus is not a new fine arts center or stadium, but its faculty. More than half of North Central’s tenure-track faculty have been hired since I became president. They will define the excellence of this school for generations to come.
So when the campus community celebrates the recent selection of Professor Howard Mueller ’58 as the national “Outstanding Educator of the Year” among more than 100 United Methodist colleges (see page 8), I also celebrate — and congratulate — the search committee that hired Dr. Mueller 28 years ago; the dean, faculty and president who recommended him for tenure; and the generous donors (notably, longtime North Central trustee Judy Stevenson, who endowed the professorial chair that he holds) whose gifts have supported Mueller’s long and distinguished career as a teacher-scholar at his alma mater.
May there be many similar success stories celebrated in the years to come!
Harold R. Wilde
North Central Now, June 2004