Rankings urged for SLU Madrid

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On the St. Louis-based Saint Louis University campus, the fact that professors have rankings goes entirely without comment. It is understood that your professor might be an associate, adjunct, full-time, tenured, or a number of other titles that go along with a job in academia. At Saint Louis University — Madrid, however, no such system currently exists. On Dec. 5, 2011, the campus’ Comité de Empresa, translated as “Workers Committee,” sent a “Statement on Ranks,” an emailed request to all faculty and staff calling for the development of a system of academic rank on the campus.

Padre Rubio Hall on the Madrid Campus houses student life and related offices as well as many classrooms. Noah Berman / Foreign Desk Chief

A faculty senate does not exist on the Madrid campus, due in large part to its small size, according to SLU Madrid Academic Dean and Interim Director Paul Vita. Because of this, the Comité de Empresa, currently comprised of eight members, four faculty and four staff, represents the employees in labor issues.

According to Renzo Llorente, a professor at SLU Madrid and a Comité member, there was widespread support among the faculty and staff at the Madrid Campus supporting a potential ranking system.

“The sense was that it was time to make a public statement in support of ranks,” Llorente said.

Llorente said that academic recognition through a ranking system is vital to the SLU Madrid faculty system.

Brian Goss, also a professor at SLU Madrid, said ranks make it easier to recruit new employees, apply for funding, lend more weight to recommendations, boost morale, increase transparency and are “another aspect of demonstrating and manifesting professionalism.”

Deanna Mason, a recently hired professor of nursing at SLU Madrid, said ranks were important to her decision to take a position at the campus.

“If there was no hope of getting ranks, this wouldn’t have been a place for me,” Mason said.

Mason said that it was disclosed at the time of hiring, the summer before the 2010-2011 school year, that a ranking system was still under development.

Such ranking systems are nearly ubiquitous in the academic world. However, there do tend to be differences between the systems in different countries.

According to Vita, this is part of the problem: reconciling two differing systems of academic rank.

“Spanish titles are descriptive of job responsibilities, but not reflective in the same way as the U.S. ranking model. So which do you use? We are operating within a Spanish context, so what do we do?” Vita said. “At this point, we’re at a compromise.”

Vita said that this has been a challenge for a very long time, developing “the best thing for both the campus and the faculty.”

Despite these issues, Goss said he is certain that a ranking system will happen.

“It’s just a matter of getting a road-map and getting a process into place,” Goss said. “Everybody realizes that it’s to our benefit, just a question of how to implement it.”

One thing on which all parties said they are in agreement: It is important to work together. The Comité’s statement ends by wishing “to make known its willingness to assist the Administration in designing the ranks and categories to be used on the Madrid campus.”

Vita said that as both a faculty member and an administrator, he is excited about addressing the challenge, and that he is “committed to dialogue and finding out what is the best thing both for the campus and the faculty.”

Llorente said that there is no reason the campus could not have a combination of an American and Spanish rank system, but that “the trouble is that we currently have no system at all.”

What strikes some faculty members as odd is the fact that the St. Louis campus has ranks while the SLU-Madrid campus does not. Andy Price, a professor of political science at the SLU-Madrid campus, said that he agrees with the “communique from the Comité.”

“Moreover, there is no reason why there should be ranks in Missouri and not in Madrid,” Price said. “We teach the same programs, often to the same students.”

According to Llorente, the ranking issue is not a legal problem and that since there is “no obstacle toward an American system on campus, [there is] no legal reason why not.”

Among students, reaction to this news tended to be mixed. A large portion of those studying at SLU-Madrid are visiting students, such as junior Bani Saluja.

“As a visiting student, a teacher not having tenure does not affect my semester, unless a teacher leaves mid-semester, which has happened,” Saluja said.

SLU-Madrid student Juan Miguel Andre said he was shocked.

“It is terrible to know that a teacher’s studies do not influence the school,” Andre said.

Fellow permanent student, senior Basma Gaber, said she felt that the lack of ranks could have negative effects on the quality of education at the SLU-Madrid campus.

“It means that professors of low quality can come and go,” Gaber said. “And that professors don’t really have an incentive to work hard and improve on themselves.”

Visiting student, junior Conor Wildt, said he disagreed.

“I feel like a lot of times, tenure can sort of encourage almost a sedentary perspective because your position is sured up,” Wildt said.

Still, for most, if not all, of the campus’s employees, however, ranks are a matter of not only necessity, but pride as well.

“We’re very professional with what we do,” Goss said. “People have degrees from outstanding universities, and [ranks are] another aspect of demonstrating and manifesting professionalism.”