Drue Sokol, Photo Editor

“A term of up to one year is usual. In very special cases, it could be extended for another year, and in truly extraordinary circumstances, for a third year. The title should not be used for individuals when prolonged appointments are anticipated.” – From the UR Faculty Handbook’s definition of “Visiting Faculty”

In the fall of 2007, Professor Jeffrey Glick was hired as a visiting assistant professor in UR’s Philosophy Department. “It started off as a one year position, and I was not guaranteed anything beyond that,” Glick said.

In other words, as per what the Faculty Handbook says, it was a usual case.

Four years later, Glick remains at the University, teaching three different philosophy classes, Monday through Friday. Meanwhile, he also remains a visiting assistant professor — and therefore, as has happened to him every year, he’s still not guaranteed anything beyond the term he’s currently serving. The difference this time around is that someone finally acted on this situation: his students.

Early last month, an online petition was created to make Glick a tenure tracked member of the Philosophy Department. The idea for the petition came from senior Maya Dukmasova and junior Noah Wilson — both former students of Glick — in response to the annual uncertainty about his future at UR.

“I’m not sure why the idea never really came to me before,” Dukmasova, a philosophy and religion major, said. “I would talk to him at philosophy council [where Glick serves as a meeting adviser], and ask, ‘Are you going to have a job next year?’ And he would always say, ‘I don’t know.’”

Members of the Undergraduate Philosophy Council collaborated in putting the petition together, and posted fliers for the petition in every building where Glick teaches a class. “All we’re trying to do here is make the undergrads’ opinions a more important part of the department’s decision-making,” Dukmasova said. “Having a teacher like [Glick] does a lot to foster interest in philosophy, [and] brings a lot of credibility to the subject. The students shouldn’t be deprived of such a passionate teacher and adviser because he doesn’t seem to fit into the idea of what a faculty member should be like.”

Dukmasova and Wilson hoped to get 100 signatures before handing the petition in to the Philosophy Department. When they finally did so, on Thursday, Feb. 24, about 120 people had signed it, including several alumni and the mother of one of Glick’s current students. Those that left comments on the page extolled Glick’s kindness, his dedication to his students and his ability to enliven and thoroughly explain difficult material. But the Philosophy Department has yet to officially respond to the petition, or make any decision regarding Glick’s contract renewal -— meaning that, for the fourth consecutive year, his future at UR is in limbo (Randall Curren, the chair of the philosophy department, declined to comment for this article). So why is it that a professor who has clearly won the admiration of his students — and who has already been employed past the supposed point of “truly extraordinary circumstances” for visiting professors — is even in this situation?

There’s a simple answer and a slightly trickier one, both of which relate to the same issue: the specific expectations of a research university, as opposed to those of, say, a liberal arts school. According to the Faculty Handbook, the principal factors considered for a professor’s promotion to tenure are “teaching, scholarly or artistic work and service to the department, school and University.” But Glick says that UR, like most other research universities, “has emphasized publications over teaching when making hiring decisions.”

“It’s not like [the University] doesn’t care about teaching,” he said. “They do. But being a strong researcher can actually get you a job at a place like this, whereas being a strong teacher without being a strong researcher will not get you a job. At least, not one that’s going to last.”

Glick openly admits to belonging in the second category. Professionally, he focuses on work in epistemology and is trying to branch out into publishing work about applied ethics, but he’s only had one publication thus far: “Justification and the Right to Believe,” which appeared in The Philosophical Quarterly in 2010. He’s been invited to contribute a book review to the same journal, and is currently working on getting other works published. Nonetheless, he says, “I’m not what you’d call a strong researcher. Where I’m good is the classroom.”

His classroom abilities are what have earned him each returning year at UR. One of Glick’s greatest selling points, from an administrative standpoint, is that he’s willing to teach a variety lower level classes that other philosophy professors are not necessarily interested in. In fact, Glick is actually eager for the 100-level courses.

“I really get the most satisfaction from teaching these lower level intro classes,” he said. “These are the classes where the students come in and don’t know anything about the subject, and you have to take a diverse group of people who might not even be interested in this stuff and convert them into people who are.”

These lower-level courses require a unique teaching style for philosophy professors — they’re often lecture hall classes with dozens of students, as opposed to the considerably smaller settings of most upper-level classes — and Glick says that it’s “fun” to do.

It also certainly helps that Glick has regularly earned very strong student feedback — he was one of four finalists for Humanities Professor of the Year in 2010, and consistently earns some of the highest scores on teaching evaluations out of anyone in the Philosophy Department. Those factors helped bolster his reputation within the University, and evidently, they’re enough to earn a few contract renewals. However, Glick notes, “It’s nice, but it doesn’t have any security.”

As for the tenure track position, which the student petition called for, that could be a struggle entirely different from mere job security.

“Tenure track lines at a research university are a precious commodity that departments compete for,” Professor William FitzPatrick, who took a tenured position in UR’s Philosophy Department this past fall, said. “While a department’s teaching needs are taken into account by deans in granting such lines, the focus will always be on getting someone who meets the department’s research needs and will also be an excellent teacher.”

Once a tenure track position is created and approved at a research university, a national search is required to find someone who meets its requirements.

“The real issue [here] is just whether there’s a tenure track line available in Jeff’s area of research,” FitzPatrick said. “If not, then it would be an uphill battle to create one, and it would tend to turn on a case for research needs and would involve a national search. Having said that, I agree that [Glick] is a tremendous asset to the University, and it would be great to find some way to keep him around even without a tenure track line.”

Glick himself doesn’t even want something as high as a tenure track position — he simply wants to know that he has a future at UR, whatever that may entail. “It’s one of the long-term goals of professors to get tenure track, but I just want to keep working here,” he said. “Given the choice, I would continue working here, in my present position, forever. I would have no problem with that at all.”

Glick estimates that he spends 30 to 50 hours a year just working on applications to other universities, in case UR actually decides to not renew his contract at some point. By now, it’s starting to wear on him. “It is discouraging to be on the market for so long,” he said, “and it can be quite scary to worry every year about whether I’ll have a job at a university during the next year.”

But at least there’s the student petition, whatever effect it may or may not have. Whether or not the signatures, praise and general support will have any actual impact, Glick is “deeply flattered” by the petition, viewing it as an accomplishment in its own right.

“I think it’s a wonderful expression of the student voice,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with students getting together and telling the faculty what they want out of their university experience. I like to think that’s an indicator that people enjoy just being in college, and being educated, because I’m in the room. I don’t recall (a student petition) happening when I was in college for anybody, and I’ve never seen it happen here either. So I don’t want to say it’s unique, because I’m sure it’s happened somewhere else, but it’s rare. And I’m happy about that.”

But until UR makes a decision about whether Glick will remain “in the room,” it’s unclear what the petition will actually represent: a victory for devoted students, or a flattering goodbye.

Silverstein is a member of the class of 2013.



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