How can I find out about the tenure status of one of my minor subject special committee members?

Date: July 2017



At a recent conference I was informed by a faculty member at a different university that one of the minor members of my special committee did not receive tenure. This information has not been relayed to me by anyone in my department, so I am not sure if this is true. However, I am wondering how this might affect me and how I should proceed. My specific questions are as follows:

  1. When are tenure decisions announced/made public to the department and/or graduate students?
  2. Would it be appropriate for me to ask the chair of my special committee whether the minor member received tenure or not?
  3. If it is true that the minor member did not receive tenure, will I be required to find a new minor member among the Cornell faculty?
  4. When professors serving on special committees leave Cornell, do they often continue to serve on the special committee of Cornell students, at least those who they were advising before they left?


Grad Wondering About Faculty Tenure Decision


Dear Grad Wondering About Faculty Tenure Decision,

Thank you for your Ask a Dean question. I can understand that rumors (whether accurate or not) that you hear about your special committee members would be concerning. I’ll address each of your questions in turn.

  1. The tenure process has multiple steps and unfolds over a rather extended period of time, most of which is confidential. Decisions to endorse or deny the bid for tenure are made sequentially at the department, college, and university levels. If the decision is to deny at any of these levels, there is typically an appeals process (which would add time to the usual sequence). Typically, public announcement of the decision to award tenure is made after final approval by the Board of Trustees. Public announcement of the decision to deny tenure usually does not occur in the same way, and is handled more privately with respect for the circumstances of the faculty candidate, and the information is conveyed as appropriate to those who need to know and may be affected by the negative decision, such as graduate students. Those affected are offered appropriate support to determine next steps. News about the status of the tenure case may filter out informally over time, however, as the dossier advances through the process. Such news, though, may not be accurate and may not be predictive of what the final decision will be. 
  2. If you have any concerns about your committee members, it is certainly appropriate for you to talk about your concerns with your special committee chair and/or with your DGS. However, those faculty may have no information about the specific tenure process unless they are in the department of the faculty candidate and information about the later stages of the tenure process have been communicated to the faculty, given the confidential nature of the process. Be prepared for a response from your special committee chair that s/he does not know anything about the case, but ask if your chair or the DGS can make an inquiry with the appropriate department chair to determine if there is anything you should be concerned about with regard to the faculty candidate’s continued participation on your special committee. If you still have questions or concerns after talking with your special committee and DGS, please contact me directly and I’ll see if I can help sort out the facts that you need.
  3. According to the Code of Legislation for graduate education at Cornell, Ph.D. students are generally required to have at least two minor committee members and master’s students are generally required to have at least one minor committee member. If the minor member on your special committee did not receive tenure, typically s/he will have one year from the tenure denial final decision to remain at Cornell in her/his professorial position. Graduate faculty members who resign or leave the university may automatically remain on special committees on which they were serving at the time of resignation for up to one year. If a faculty member resigns from the university and wishes to remain on a special committee beyond one year, the student must petition to allow the former graduate faculty member to continue to serve in that role. The purpose of filing a petition is to make sure that all parties – the student, the special committee chair, the other members, and the former faculty member – all understand the expectations and implications associated with the student having one minor committee member who is no longer active at the university. In your case, depending on the time you have left in your program before you graduate, you may not need to find a new minor committee member among the graduate faculty, or you may if the circumstances warrant it.
  4. When professors leave Cornell, they do often continue to serve on the special committees of Cornell students they were advising before they left, but not always. It really depends on the circumstances of the departure and the desires and interests of the student and the faculty member. Certainly policy mechanisms exist to enable you to keep the departing individual on your special committee if that would be appropriate, as above.

I hope this helps address your questions and any concerns you may have. As I noted earlier, if you have difficulty learning the facts of this case please let me know and I’ll do what I can to help.

Warm regards,


Barbara A. Knuth
Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School