out on the tenure track - sad story

Jul 16 2012 Published by under academia, queer

There was a fellow, Albert Romkes, who got a tenure-track position at the University of Kansas in Mechanical Engineering. When he came up for tenure, he got approved by his Department and School, but then was denied by the University level administrators (full story here). He was the first and only openly gay faculty member in the School of Engineering. There is no way to know why the Dean decided to deny tenure to Dr. Romkes. Some of the faculty and other members of the KU community feel like he was not treated fairly (there may have been some shenanigans with the "rules" applied by the P&T committee) because of his sexual orientation. KU, obviously, denies discrimination.

Romkes doesn't feel like he was actively tormented as an openly gay faculty member at KU, though it was apparently a little awkward to bring his partner to events. Still, this is what he has to say about the situation now:

"In hindsight, I should have mentioned it in the interview because I could have avoided a lot of misery," he says, "If anybody would have had a problem, they wouldn't have hired me, and I would have been better off. I would have done my work anyway, but at a different place. And I wouldn't have to deal with this issue."


h/t @bam294 for the link

19 responses so far

  • drugmonkey says:

    The reason (excuse?) was his failure to win extramural funding as a PI. Interesting in these tight grant times.

    He apparently got his NSF "weeks" after the final denial. It really speaks to the predictive nature of not getting an award in the first 6 years. Which is crappy right now.

  • Dave Bridges says:

    Does anyone know if KU uses a points system for P&T? And if so why didn't the Department and School follow it?

    • gerty-z says:

      There was no mention of a points system, but the article suggested he was held to an (unapproved) requirement to get federal grant as a PI

  • Namnezia says:

    Well, the shenanigans would be if other folks in his cohort got tenure without funding and he didn't. According the article it seems like this is the case, that no one in KU had been denied tenure because they had not been able to get funding.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    In our department, we have a promotion committee to recommend an applicant for promotion or not. The committee recommended a tenured faculty member for promotion. According to our departmental working papers the Chair supports the decision of the promotion committee (the Chair can disagree with the decision of a tenure committee). Our Dean did not support the promotion. I think tenure and promotion decisions should be made at the department level, and supported up the line as just an administrative manner. So, as Chair, I set out to get the faculty member promoted. I talked with the Dean and he detailed his reasons for denying the promotion. I went back to the candidate and reported the Dean's concerns. The candidate was able to present documents to meet the Dean's concerns. The Dean reversed his position, and the candidate was promoted.

    Incidentally, as a member of the promotion committee, I voted against the candidate. Then I put my Chair hat on and saw to it the candidate was promoted.

  • Departments will officially approve someone for promotion/tenure but include poison pills in the package--like was done here--with the expectation that it will be denied at the next level. Let someone else do the dirty work of shitcanning your colleague. If the department and chair really wanted to see this person tenured and become a permanent member of their department, there is no way there would have been these criticisms in his file. Regardless of the vote, the presence of these criticisms in the file indicates that there was not robust support for his tenure.

    This is all obviously orthogonal to why there wasn't robust support for him, but it is important to recognize that this was not a case of "his department and chair totally wanted him tenured and the evil dean shitcanned it".

    • gerty-z says:

      That is a good point. I was wondering why the Chair would have put any mention of something negative in the tenure package.

    • Spiny Norman says:

      "If the department and chair really wanted to see this person tenured and become a permanent member of their department, there is no way there would have been these criticisms in his file."

      That assumes that there were no dumbshittes on the committee, PP. Not always a valid assumption.

  • gerty-z says:

    FTR: I don't know why Romkes didn't get tenure. It could have been totally justified, but what caught my attention was the idea that if he had been out during his job search when he was being recruited that he could have avoided some amount of pain now. Because he will always wonder if the fact he was gay was a consideration. Because sometimes, it is.

  • TheGrinch says:

    ISI citation report says that (AU=Romkes A*) published only three articles (two of them are in conference proceedings) since 2006. For that field, 3-4 journal articles per year is considered as par.

    • gerty-z says:

      Like I said, I don't think that blog comments are the place to figure out if he "deserved" tenure or not. The fact is, his Dept. and School voted to promote him. Maybe they were passing the buck, maybe not. But it sucks that he will now wonder if it was because he was gay.

  • Wow. As much as I itch to have my very own lab full of minions, Romkes' "opportunity" doesn't seem like a deal I'd want to take.

    But seriously, what's with the scientopia reality check lately? Between drugmonkey's "too many trainees, no jobs", PLS's "does it seem like more of the jobs are going to people with TT-jobs rather than post-docs?" and "possible homophobic tenure denial", my sense of entitlement and trust in a brighter tomorrow is taking a hit. All of this is about *other* people, right? right?!?

  • Spiny Norman says:

    The girl I dated during my senior year of high school had two dads. One of them came out after he got tenure. The other was out before his tenure decision. That was a mistake; tenure was denied when the packet hit the President's desk. I know of at least two other tenure denials at the same place, in the same manner, for the same reason. This was at of the most ostensibly liberal universities in the United States. At that time (not really so long ago), that was SOP. Fucked. Another friend, upon receiving tenure, skipped down the hall of the admin building singing "I'm gay, I'm tenured, and there's nothing you can do about it!" and in so doing became that school's first openly gay faculty member. He retired last year. One of my heros.

    This is why we fight.

    • TheGrinch says:

      It may be worthwhile to ask whether any person—regardless of sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity or any other discriminatory reason—with equal contributions would have made the tenure at the same place and the same time. In this case with only three publications since 2006 (search "AU=Romkes, A*" in ISIweb), it does not seem so.

      Clearly, there are many many instance where people have been wronged merely because of their orientation, but apparently this is not the one.

      • gerty-z says:

        You seem to have mistakenly posted the same comment twice. Let me repeat my response: you don't know what the standards for tenure at this place are/were. Tenure decisions are always somewhat subjective. There are not a list of requirements, that if met, guarantee you tenure, and the number of publications alone is an insufficient amount of data to judge whether or not he "deserved" tenure.

      • Spiny Norman says:

        TG, I do not think that that word, "clearly," means what you think it means.

    • gerty-z says:

      I know of several folks that also were denied tenure, with the general view being that their sexual orientation was a (large) factor. Also, now if I get tenure I really want to skip around singing. Even though I was out when hired, I still feel like that would be awesome.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    IIRC, in 29 states employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not prohibited. Is Kansas one of those states?

  • [...] CRAZY SHIT FROM THIS WEEK: The first openly-gay engineer at the University of Kansas doesn't get tenure, and is left to wonder whether it is because the Dean is a stupid-ass homophobe. [...]

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