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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Fresh Faces, Fresh Perspectives

UMass Boston has some fresh faces to replace outgoing faculty.

During the 2001-2002 scholastic year, to offset the financial pressure placed on the university by budget cuts, UMB offered early retirement to a large number of its tenured faculty. Approximately 72-73 members took up the offer and retired. At the start of the 2002-2003 year, the chancellor made a commitment to replace at least 80% of the lost positions over a three-year span, a rate of about 20 faculty a year.

Though as of the writing of this report no contracts have been officially signed for the upcoming scholastic year, Anita Miller, assistant vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, provided information about incoming faculty whose hires are for all intents and purposes settled.

Among them, Provost Paul Fonteyn points out the most interesting as being minority hires Susan Tomlinson and Nadia Nurhussein in the English department and in psychology John Perez and Roxanne Donovan.

Tomlinson is an African-American woman specializing in 19th- and early 20th-century literature and most recently taught at Fairfield University in Connecticut. Nurhussein, also an African-American, received her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley and her B.A. from Harvard and specializes in African-American Poetry.

Perez, a Hispanic, is a Clinical Developmental Psychologist and a National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH)-funded researcher who, when leaving UCSF, decided to come to UMB over Yale and is considered by many to be one of the top researchers in his field. Donovan is an African-American Clinical Cultural Psychologist with a Ph.D. and a Masters from UConn.

Regarding these four hirings, Fonteyn remarks, “The pools were exceedingly deep and rich and they had so much overlap that I actually authorized an additional hire in both of those departments so that we could have greater diversity of faculty to fulfill more of the teaching needs and better reflect the composition of the student body here. So we really didn’t just hit a home run, but we hit a grand slam.”

New faculty have the opportunity to be tenured and promoted after a six-year trial run. They are evaluated annually by their individual departments in three stages-full department, departmental personnel committee, and department chairperson.

The fourth year is the most crucial out of the initial 6-year period, because at that point, a faculty member’s department evaluation is followed by a college-wide committee, then the dean who can offer a concurring or dissenting opinion of the reviews, then on to Fonteyn, who can decide to either accept or override recommendations in the three prior stages.

“They’re all recommendations,” explains Fonteyn, “and I can look at them and say, ‘I agree,’ or ‘I don’t agree.’ And the reality is that they can get positive reviews all the way up and if I don’t agree, that’s kind of the end of the story. If I agree, it goes to the Board of Trustees and they evaluate and decide. If I disagree, it doesn’t go to the Board of Trustees. That fourth year is when we decide to either keep a faculty member on board or if it’s time for them to move on.”

In all stages of evaluation, there are three factors to weigh in deciding whether to grant approval to a faculty member: teaching, research and service. The evaluation sheets that students are required to fill out at the end of a semester fall into the teaching category. Each department, however, handles its own stage differently, so the means of reviewing teaching is by no means normalized.

Departments can weigh the student evaluations as much or as little as they want, and also have the option of sending department personnel to classes and observing instructors while they teach. Faculty grades are also perceived differently by each department. As Fonteyn puts it, “Just like in your classes, some people give B’s more regularly than others, and you want to have that normalized within a department and have the department know what [a particular grade] means. Maybe a B in one department is low, but in another it would be very high, so they have to figure that out amongst themselves.”

The final word from Fonteyn with regard to UMB’s hiring requisites was, “It’s not just where you got your degree, but what you’re working in and what you represent. We look at lots of different factors when we hire, and to me, what’s most interesting about this place and what I was told back at the beginning is, it’s Boston, and because it’s Boston we can draw faculty that other places cannot draw. People want to be here and it’s a great place to be intellectually… It’s the most stimulating environment in the United States.”