CSI Professor David Traboulay,
I was surprised when I learned that Professor Chalmers Clark was denied tenure.
Chalmers has been teaching at our College since the 1980s and I have met him on countless occasions and exchanged brief conversations with him. He has always displayed an admirable quality of collegiality which, as I grow older, and older at our College, I have come to cherish. I have met Professor Chalmers Clark only casually, but yet I think that I know him well. As a Professor at CSI and a resident of Staten Island for 30 years, I encounter students almost daily on and off campus; students who continued their studies at graduate school as well as others who have become responsible citizens. In conversation with many of them I have often heard them say how much they were inspired by Professor Chalmers Clark. I took special notice when they commented that he made philosophy come alive and that “he brought philosophy down from the clouds,” to quote a commentator on the impact of Socrates, because I belong to the “old school” of historians who believe that the study of philosophy and history should be the foundation of learning. I am well aware that the climate of opinion on teaching in our College is that everyone is a good teacher, an opinion enunciated in large part to persuade the faculty to do more research and publication. I was Chair of the History Department for 12 years between 1976 and 1991, and this view of teaching was already coming to dominance in the latter years of my tenure.
The issue of tenure for Professor Chalmers Clark has touched
a chord that has taken me back to when I came to the College as a young
Professor in 1971. Perhaps most people will remember CUNY as an institution
battered by unending crises. But that is not the whole story. There have
been periods of almost revolutionary energy and changes, not all of them,
in hindsight, creative. But many of these initiatives were exciting and
useful. The early 1970s was one of these moments. We were hired at various
CUNY Colleges from all parts of America and the World. We were for the
most part trained as traditional academics and all committed to scholarship,
but we were asked to make teaching, in the concrete circumstances of
students from Staten Island, New York, and more recent immigrants from
practically everywhere in the world, central to the work we did. During
that time we labored to create ways to improve our teaching—workshops,
team-teaching, preparing new courses, requiring that all full-time faculty
teach freshman-courses, asking faculty to talk
I do not want to ignore the criterion of scholarship in the granting of tenure. Faculty have always agreed that significant scholarship and recognition outside the College community should be one of the criteria for tenure, together with teaching and service to the University community. Indeed, I say unequivocally that scholarship as measured by research, publications, and papers at scholarly conferences, is vital to good teaching. My friends on the College’s Personnel and Budget Committee have repeatedly told me that from the 1990s the standards for scholarship have been made more demanding. This pattern is ascendant in most universities today. The market has pervaded the Academy so deeply that a College’s reputation is built by prestigious faculty with strong publication records. I have only recently seen Professor Chalmers Clark’s resume and note that he has regularly written articles on medical ethics and he has presented papers every year at important scholarly conferences. But I do not want to pose as an authority on this. My view of the sufficiency of his research at this moment is supported by his Department and the current chairpersons of the College P&B who concluded that in their judgment, considering his teaching, scholarship, and service, Professor Chalmers Clark deserved tenure.
Over the years, especially when I was Chair, I have on
occasions too many to remember participated in appeals on behalf of faculty,
staff, and students. I confess that at times this important exercise
seemed ritualistic. My advocacy for Professor Chalmers Clark is not a
ritual; it comes from the heart.