Why the Case of Dr. Kim Evans Should Matter to You

By Hannah Dreyfus
On May 18, 2012

Dr. Kim Evans' appeal for tenure has been officially denied as of May 4, 2012. 360 signatures, 23 months (since the tenure process began-the appeal process has taken over 3 months), and countless expressed concerns later, Professor Kim Evans' appointment at Stern has been terminated. As a student body rightly concerned with the lack of transparency and absence of agreed-upon criteria for evaluative procedures at Stern College for Women, this is a matter that should be of concern to the entire undergraduate community, both to those who have and those who have not taken courses with Professor Evans.

A quick timeline: Professor Evans began teaching at Stern in 2008. She left a well-established position at Redlands University in California, where she was poised for tenure in the upcoming semester. Because of her exceptional qualifications, she was invited to Stern on a 'short-clock' tenure track, meaning she would be considered for tenure after an unusually short period. She was given three semesters teaching and one pre-tenure sabbatical (served during the Spring semester of 2010) before being considered for tenure. It should be noted that Professor Evans left her well-respected and hard-earned position in California precisely to come to Stern College for Women, as the unique nature of our student body and dual curriculum was, she thought, a very good fit for her intellectual and pedagogical interests.

As planned, Professor Evans filed for tenure in June of 2010. After waiting for over a year, an abnormally long waiting period, Professor Evans was informed in June of 2011 that her application had been denied. No reasons for her denial have ever been provided except for what she has been told by Dean Bacon: that, as Professor Evans reports, "concerns had been raised about the quality of my teaching," despite the fact that this "did not come from the students," who the Dean said were "hugely and overwhelmingly unanimous in their support," and also that concerns had been raised about "the quality of my research," despite the fact that there was, as she said, "no question of concern about its quantity."

"If there were concerns about my teaching methods, I would have been more than happy to address the concerns. But the department never once brought any such concerns to my attention," said Dr. Evans in a recent interview with The Observer. "I was given no chance to address any such concerns, nor was I ever provided with an explanation of what these concerns were." A nearly perfect teaching record and a small army of dedicated students only deepens the question.

On the grounds of procedural errors, Dr. Evans formally requested an appeal within 72 hours of learning about the denial of her tenure application. The meeting with the Provost-appointed appeal committee took place in on January 30th, 2011. "I was told by the Provost that the whole appeal process would be completed within a month," said Professor Evans. Over three months later, Professor Evans received a letter from the Provost, dated May 4, 2012, three lines in length with an accompanying one-page long letter, termed a 'report,' from the ad hoc tenure appeals committee. The letter informed Dr. Evans of the final decision to deny the appeal, and the termination of her appointment at Stern. The report cited Dr. Evans' own stated grounds for her appeal and then rejected the grounds. No account was provided for the reasons for the denial, and no evaluation of the tenure procedure was offered.

It is important to note that nothing is guaranteed in the field of academia. However, one must question why a Professor, hired and placed on an accelerated tenure track specifically for her exceptional qualifications, was then be denied tenure on those very same grounds.

A brief look at Dr. Evans' work: Dr. Evans boasts an impressive array of publications and professional recognitions. Among her numerous accomplishments, (which can be viewed in full on her CV posted at yu.edu) Dr. Evans has published one critical book (Whale!University of Minnesota Press, 2003) and has one forthcoming from the same A-level academic press and 9 published peer-reviewed articles-competitive credentials for even top-tier universities. Dr. Evans has in addition been the recipient of several teaching awards and highly competitive scholarly grants, including a Fulbright Research Fellowship. Aside from her academic accomplishments, Professor Evans totes a nearly perfect student record. Just this year (and for the second year in a row) she was among the top three faculty members nominated by students to receive the prestigious Lillian F. and William L. Silber Award, a yearly recognition of one outstanding faculty member.

Stern students have actively spoken out in support of Dr. Evans. At the most recent Town Hall Meeting, four student leaders presented President Joel with a petition signed by 360 students over the course of two days. They additionally presented President Joel with a letter detailing student concerns (attached at right).

Providing some words of assurance, Dean Karen Bacon commented, "The strong support Dr. Evans has from the students she has taught was never in question. Students can feel assured that this information was clearly included in her tenure review dossier and formed part of the formal documents that were considered."

But, no matter how much student support Dr. Evans received, student support is not what ultimately gains a professor tenure. "At the end of the day, what the student body has to realize is that this case is not just about the loss of one Professor," said Jina Davidovich, editor for The Commentator and active student leader. "It is a case about transparency within our institution when it comes to administrative decisions that directly affect the student body. This case is about the absence of an objective set of standards in order to prevent the tenure process from becoming arbitrary and secretive."  

Tenure is achieved by having a record of demonstrated excellence as a teacher and scholar, as well as an established record of support for the department, college and University. In the case of Dr. Evans, the 'concerns' raised about her teaching were not raised by the students, nor were they ever discussed, in the two years prior to her going up for tenure, with Dr. Evans.

While additional 'concerns' were raised about the 'quality' of her research (but not its quantity), it is important to note that quality of scholarship is deemed, not by the Dean of the College or even by members of the department, but by the quality of the outlets in which a Professor publishes his/her research, and other concrete examples of peer esteem. Dr. Evans has published her research in outlets of unquestionable quality (for example  University of Minnesota Press or rigorously peer-reviewed journals such as the journal Philosophy, published by Cambridge University Press). Questioning the 'quality' of her research, therefore, only highlights the way in which evaluative measures at Stern are nothing like those at comparably ranked universities.

Evaluative procedures matter.In the case of Dr. Evans, there was no record of "concern" before going up for tenure. If concerns arose in the course of the process, the candidate should be allowed to address these concerns. The "concerns" about Dr. Evans surfaced at the endof a long process and remain shrouded in mystery. Given no written or verbal evaluation prior to application or after the denial, the evaluative measures in this case prove inadequate and ambiguous.

If and when transparent tenure and promotion procedures are established, Stern will move one step closer to instituting rational, evidence-based evaluation measures. The college will be able to continue hiring promising young scholars, without leaving them to the same ambiguous "evaluative procedures" that have contributed to Yeshiva's earning, since 1981, its ignominious place on the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) list of censured institutions.

The AAUP, according to their official website, is an organization dedicated to "defin[ing] fundamental professional values and standards for higher education." Their Censure List is a list of Universities who "are not observing the generally recognized principles of academic freedom and tenure approved by this Association ... and more than two hundred other professional and educational organizations which have endorsed the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure."The other universities listed are far bellow the caliber of Yeshiva, a Top 50 Institution as ranked this year by US News. The AAUP Censure List and more information about the AAUP are easily accessible online.

Yeshiva University was placed on this list three decades ago for illegitimate tenure practices. YU terminated the tenured appointments of three professors, Charles Patt, Shelly Koenigsberg, and Dorothy Sievers, an unjust action when considered in accordance with the 1940Statement of Principles on Academic Freedomand Tenureand the Association'sRecommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Full documentation is easily accessible online. A university is removed from the AAUP Censure List when their unjust practices are satisfactorily reformed. Yeshiva University is still on this list.

Furthermore, while most top-tier universities have a handbook clearly outlining the tenure track process, Yeshiva does not yet have a tenure handbook. A handbook such as this, according to the Harvard Tenure Track Handbook, understands "the importance of making this system transparent and easy to navigate." The Handbook provides a clear set of standards and expectations for a professor to receive tenure, as well as timeline available for guidance. A Tenure Track Handbook prevents the tenure process from being opaque or arbitrary. Although Yeshiva University claims to be in the process of drafting a handbook, at this point in time, no handbook exists, leaving no objective or referable standards for who will receive tenure and on what grounds.

As students, the extent to which Stern's practices and evaluative procedures have the potential to undermine its standing as a serious institution should be a matter of great concern. A lack of transparency and due process will lose our college the respect and patronage of serious scholars and, ultimately, serious students. It is time that these unethical practices are reexamined. No one is advantaged by a continued silence.

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