By Clara Larson
Professor Leah Allen has been given a tenure track position within the Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies (GWSS) department. Often, students do not notice changes in faculty’s tenure status, and as Allen noted, “these distinctions are not obvious to students, but they’re pretty meaningful.” Before receiving this promotion, Professor Allen served two years as a visiting assistant professor. Her new position has shortened her title to “assistant professor,” lengthened her contract and has put her on track to possibly becoming a full tenured professor in six years. Allen expects her tenure track to significantly impact the GWSS department.
Although Allen is not the first professor in the department to be put on a tenure track, as Professors Astrid Henry and Lakesia Johnson both served as tenured professors within the department, no tenured or tenure track professor has taught GWSS in over two years. Two years ago, almost simultaneously, Professor Johnson took the position of associate dean of the College and Professor Henry went on medical leave. And so, for the past two years, “their teaching has been covered by term faculty members, who are here as visiting assistant professors,” said Professor Carolyn Lewis, chair of the GWSS department.
Because visiting assistant professors have shorter contracts and hence teach for shorter periods of time, often no longer than two or three years, faculty and students alike became concerned about instability within the department and decided to take action.
For the faculty, this meant working to secure Allen her new position.
“Since we know that Astrid Henry is not going to be coming back to the classroom at the moment, we got permission to do a targeted search so that we could hire her as a regular tenure track assistant professor,” Lewis said.
“The students in GWSS and on the GWSS [Student Educational Policy Committee] worked really hard last year to advocate for themselves,” Allen said. “They met with Dean Latham, they created a petition, they’ve really been advocating for more faculty in GWSS, more tenure track faculty in GWSS and I hope that they feel pleased and proud of the work that they did last year.”
Although Allen’s new position may not have been a direct result of their advocacy, it was the sort of change they were advocating.
“I think that the SEPC’s activities definitely helped to raise awareness on campus and beyond that GWSS was in a really unusually precarious position, just because of circumstances,” Lewis said. “Whether or not it actually made a difference, I don’t know, but I think it was definitely appreciated.”
Both Allen and Lewis expect Allen’s new position to bring stability to the department. “This is a step towards stability and continuity that really helps to send the message that the program is as strong and vibrant as ever,” Lewis said.
They hope that this stability will manifest itself as more opportunities and a more cohesive experience overall for GWSS students.
“Having someone on a tenure track means more stability for GWSS students,” Allen said. “It means that students have more options for advising, more opportunities to do research projects and more certainty in knowing that there will be the same faculty to teach their courses as they progress through the years in the program.”
The students and faculty of the GWSS department perceive Allen’s new position as a tenure track professor as a positive development for the department, but their dedication to the department does not end there.
“In the long term, GWSS wants to continue to be one of the important places on campus where students learn about race, class, gender and sexuality through our core courses as well as through being able to offer students opportunities for individual research projects in the field,” Allen said. “Everyone wants to see GWSS be sustainable and eventually grow in the future.”