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Tenure as a Closed System: Subconscious Behavioral Characteristics of Coercion, Groupthink, Bias and Inherent Discrimination

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Mitchell L. Springer PMP, SPHR, SHRM-SCP Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

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Dr. Mitchell L. Springer

Dr. Springer currently serves as an Executive Director for Purdue University’s Polytechnic Institute located in West Lafayette, Indiana. He has over 35 years of theoretical and Defense industry-based practical experience from four disciplines: Software Engineering, Systems Engineering, Program Management and Human Resources. Dr. Springer possesses a significant strength in pattern recognition, analyzing and improving organizational systems. He is internationally recognized, has contributed to scholarship more than 200 books, articles, presentations, editorials and reviews on software development methodologies, management, organizational change, and program management. Dr. Springer sits on many university and community boards and advisory committees. He is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, most recently, the Purdue University, College of Technology, Equity, Inclusion and Advocacy Award. Dr. Springer is the President of the Indiana Council for Continuing Education as well as the Past-Chair of the Continuing Professional Development Division of the American Society for Engineering Education.

Dr. Springer received his Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Purdue University, his MBA and Doctorate in Adult and Community Education with a Cognate in Executive Development from Ball State University. He is certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR & SHRM-SCP), in Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR), and, in civil and domestic mediation. Dr. Springer is a State of Indiana Registered domestic mediator.

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Tenure and the tenure process in particular, has been criticized for being biased, prejudicial and inherently discriminatory. This based on quantitative data and qualitative studies from numerous reputable institutions.

From a quantitative perspective, data provided by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Society for Engineering Education, Brookings, Education Advisory Board and others, support analysis of percent tenured to population availability within given races, genders, cultures and ethnicities.

Tenure, as it exists generally, is a closed system. As such, it has strong potential to promote groupthink, capitalize on coercion among lesser-seniority associate professors, and openly invite a natural bias and subsequent prejudice. The unconscious mind of individuals in a closed tenure system can and may, very naturally, extend their beliefs, biases, and prejudices against those who are not like them. This can contribute directly to the lack of “different” genders and underrepresented minorities in the tenured ranks of the academy. While it is easy, as a voting member to suggest otherwise, the data suggests this may be true. Similar minds tend to think alike. In this scenario, similar minds in a closed system, through micro inequities and preconceived biases, and subsequently through the crime of coercion and the psychological phenomenon of groupthink, clearly provide the opportunity and materialization of discrimination.

This paper will address the basic subconscious and unconscious behavioral characteristics at the root of tenure decisions. It will look at the process itself and how the process errors on the side of an often times referred to “collegiality”. This paper will lay a foundation for making better, more informed decisions. It will address the business case for inclusivity, and how it differs from the traditional training attendant to legal implications.

Of all the discussion around the tenure process, this paper addresses the most blatant, widely recognized, seemingly tolerated, marginally addressed and hurtful aspects of the tenure process.

Springer, M. L. (2018, June), Tenure as a Closed System: Subconscious Behavioral Characteristics of Coercion, Groupthink, Bias and Inherent Discrimination Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31074

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