Knowledge of the denial of tenure for Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Chris Carmichael spread within days of being announced. Since the announcement was made the week of Feb.13, zoo and wildlife biology students have demanded answers from faculty as well as the provost and president.
Denial of tenure means that Carmichael would have his job at the university until spring of 2013, at which time he would be asked to leave.
Carmichael appealed the decision at the end of the week of Feb. 13. He said he would have made a different decision initially regarding his tenure, but it is not his to make.
“They have to look at the evidence,” Carmichael said. “It’s not my decision. I don’t like it, but if it’s God’s will, so be it.”
Student reaction has been overwhelming, with demand for several meetings such as the one on Feb. 16, as well as requested meetings with the provost and president.
Meetings held in response included Carmichael, Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the Department of Natural Sciences Dr. Jeff Goff, and Dean of the College of Theology, Arts and Sciences Dr. Nathan Phinney addressing concerns of students and explaining the tenure/promotional process.
Tenure, as explained in one of the meetings with students, is a commitment on behalf of the institution to give the professor the freedom to think and understand the world in a way they wish without the worry they could be fired for it. At Malone, receiving tenure means a promotion from associate professor to professor.
The Board of Trustees voting against tenure for Dr. Carmichael was heavily based on the recommendation received from the Tenure and Promotions Committee. The specific reasons for denying Dr. Carmichael tenure are only known by Carmichael and the committee and board who made the decision.
As a result of Carmichael’s appeal, a Grievance Committee will review his portfolio, along with other aspects of their choice, that could reveal more about why or why not Carmichael should receive tenure.
After this process President Dr. David King will take the recommendation of the Grievance Committee into account and will have 10 days to make a final decision. It is a decision that he does not take lightly.
“Denial of tenure is pretty rare.” said King. “At an institution like Malone it is not only important what we do, but how we do it. These kind of decisions can hurt people.”
The denial of tenure to Carmichael has brought concern about potentially far reaching consequences. According to Carmichael, about 80% of the reptiles and amphibians in the herpetology lab are his personal property.
According to reptilechannel.com, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in January that as of March 23, the importation and interstate transportation of the Burmese Python, the African Rock Python and the Yellow Anaconda will be banned. In addition to this federal law is a pending Ohio state law proposing a total ban on exotic animals in Ohio.
This means some of the snakes will not be allowed to leave the university if at that time they are still being kept here.
“It’s still very unclear as to what is going to happen (legally),” Carmichael said. “I have already moved most of my personal snakes off campus as a precaution.”
[pullquote]”Denial of tenure is pretty rare.” said King. “At an institution like Malone it is not only important what we do, but how we do it. These kind of decisions can hurt people.”[/pullquote]
Among the banned snakes are the Burmese Pythons, which are at the university for the research project Carmichael is heading.
If Carmichael leaves, that would mean his animals will leave with him. In turn, this could create a problem with work-study jobs. Several students serve as caretakers for the animals. In their absence, zoo and wildlife biology students would have to take jobs not directly related to their major.
“The concerns I have heard have been in two main categories,” King said. “First, concerns for Carmichael and what will happen to him. Second, what will happen to the program. I have been working on receiving and responding to those questions.”
Many letters have come to Dr. King’s office from concerned students—several have been brought in person. King says this helps him in the process of learning in a more intimate way the situation and the faces of students affected by it.
Above all else, King wants students to know that Malone is committed to the program.
“I’m very confident in our ability to support the program’s instructional needs, and the students needs so there can be a good, healthy academic experience,” he said.
Although at this point many of the details have not been revealed, Phinney was sure that aspects of the program like the internships will not be an issue in the future.
He called rumors of students having to transfer to get a degree “bogus.”
“We are required to make sure that students can finish their degree,” he said. “Things might not be quite as orderly if Carmichael leaves, and I don’t want to belittle what he has done with the program, but students need to know that Malone has no desire to see the program go.”
The Department of Natural Sciences is currently moving forward with the process of hiring two new faculty members, which they narrowed down from five in October. This process began during the summer of 2011 in hopes of hiring someone to come alongside Carmichael. The department will seek to hire both applicants if the denial of tenure is not appealed.
The applicants have been informed about the potential change of their position related to Carmichael and are maintaining their plans to visit.
There is a Facebook page in support of Carmichael that has flooded with activity in the last week.
“From what I have seen it doesn’t seem like a dump-station for venting, but a place where people can virtually express their concerns,” he said. “It’s a lot of discussion and support, not a lot of name-calling.”
Although Carmichael has a year in which he can stay and look for another job if appeal is not granted, in his case it may be much more urgent due to legal issues with the animals he owns.