All I wanted for Christmas was tenure

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A rare bit of apolitical tenure news at Columbia arrived today in the form of an email from Urban Studies program director Owen Gutfreund, who announced that he had been denied tenure and will be leaving as soon as next year. Gutfreud, an expert on urban sprawl, had the reputation of being an engaging lecturer and remarkably accessible: “His door was literally always open,” recalls one Urban Studies major. Though of course no professor is without faults (reportedly attempting to convince an entire class to purchase Sim City, for one) Gutfreud’s departure is a great loss to the Urban Studies department and to the University. Full email after the jump.

To all Urban Studies students:

With great regret, I must tell you about some upcoming changes to the Urban Studies Program.  I will not be staying at Barnard.  This was not my decision — I would have liked nothing more than to continue my work here. However, I was not awarded tenure at Barnard, and will now be looking for a job elsewhere.

I’ll still be here at least until the end of the spring semester; my plans for next year, though, are still up in the air (according to faculty rules, after this tenure decision, I have an option to stay for a maximum of one more year).  Of course, until I leave, I’ll continue as Director of Urban Studies.  Professor David Weiman has agreed to assume responsibility for running the Program afterwards.  In the meantime, he and I will work together to ensure the smoothest transition possible.

I have made arrangements to ensure that all of you will have as much advising support as possible during this transition.  Of course, while I am still on the Barnard faculty, I will hold regularly scheduled office hours each week.  In addition, the following other faculty and administrators will be available to advise Urban Studies students (both

current and prospective majors):

Professor David Weiman ([email protected])

Professor David Smiley ( [email protected]) (on leave 2008-2009)

Professor Greg Smithsimon ([email protected])

Professor Lori Minnite ( [email protected])

Barnard Associate Provost Flora Davidson ([email protected])

Columbia Dean of Academic Affairs Kathryn Yatrakis ( [email protected])

Of course, if you have any questions about all of this, please contact me.

I have truly enjoyed the years I’ve spent working with Urban Studies students from Barnard and Columbia.  I will miss the Program and — most of all — its students.


Owen Gutfreund



  1. wow

    that's horrible... prof. gutfreund was a fantastic teacher who really shaped the urban studies program into something terrific. we'll miss him.

  2. damn

    How do you fire the director of the program? And sim city is fucking awesome.

    How does the tenure process work exactly? I hear it's pretty cut-throat.

  3. Anonymous

    and nadia el-haj gets tenure? Awesome columbia...you fucking suck

  4. The King of Spain  

    Speaking of the 1964 World's fair, Columbia also lost Hillary Ballon this semester, compounding this loss catastrophically.

  5. well

    there's a peer review by faculty from within and outside the university of ALL the prof's work (I do mean all...I had to do the photocopying for one person's review) which evaluates the person's contribution to and reputation in the field. i don't know if there's a set number of reviewers for each evaluation, but i do think there's an initial and then a final review, with (again, pretty sure) final say by bollinger, which is likely to coincide with the reviewing body's final recommendation.

  6. sigh...

    Last year the music department lost Sebastian Currier to the demon of no tenure. He was a fabulous professor and to boot, won the Grawemeyer prize for composition last year. The only prize that is larger, monetarily speaking is a MacArthur genius grant. It was a nice bit of revenge for all of us students who were very sad to see him go.

  7. 000000

    Could he not stay as "lecturer" or some other non-tenure title though? I know that aside from tenure-track positions, professors can also be employed as just teaching/research ppl. How do you get those?

    His e-mail sounds really sad. Very straightforward. That must suck.

    • invisible_hand

      he could stay, but then he would never make enough cash to really make a living, so he left to see if another university will offer him a tenure-track position.
      the world of academia is harsh.

      • 0000100

        How much money would he make as a non-tenure lecturer or researcher at Columbia?

        Another question: Suppose you are tenured at University A. Can you switch jobs and decide to work at University B? In other words, is the tenure binding on both you and the university you are tenured at?

        • Gulati

          is a lecturer. I know a couple of profs who are assistant profs or visiting profs who are pretty well off. I think the value of a tenure varies from department to department. The Economics dept. has some baller profs but I don't think all of them are tenured, and I don't think they particularly care that they aren't.

        • not so much  

          Pay differs widely depending on the department and lecturer. Lecturer positions do provide benefits (insurance etc.), but I've heard actual pay breaks down to as low as 5-10 per class.

          On the second question, I'm almost positive that tenure does not bind the professor to the school, at least after a certain amount of time. A lot of the top professors are actively courted by other schools with some pretty fat tenure deals.

          • 123123huh?

            "..but I've heard actual pay breaks down to as low as 5-10 per class."

            5-10? What does that mean? 5-10 thousand?! No way! You'd make more money as a high school public teacher! or even a kindergarten public school teacher! I don't believe!

          • Teacher

            Just a quick correction: all public school teachers have the same pay scale, regardless of what subject level they teach. It's all determined by years of experience and level of education. High school teachers don't necessarily make more than elementary school teachers.

  8. well

    for one, these decisions usually have a lot more to do with research than teaching ability/personality. still, I do wonder how his assigning sim city and barely anything else as class homework played pedagogically...

    but that's not what really lies behind all these tenure decisions. read the mountain of recent articles in the ny times and chronicle of higher education about the state of the academic job market. because there's more supply of PhDs than there is demand, universities can basically get a rotating corps of adjuncts to teach what they formally had to pay a full, tenured professor heaps to do (a professor who they had a hard time getting rid of, at that). it's forced many highly qualified people into the adjunct/non-tenure track ghetto and has resulted in the out-rotation of a lot of fantastic faculty members at columbia.

    but don't worry. you'll come to love whoever they hire to teach gutfreund's classes...until they deny him/her tenure too.

    • Sprinkles

      Seeing how Columbia is one of the few schools offering an urban studies major, and how we're based in one of the most important cities in the world, I'm surprised Columbia would not want to show off having tenured faculty in the program. Then again, Dean Yatrakis is part of it, and, well, she's a Dean, so, I guess that is enough for the school.

  9. Owen's

    father is John Gutfruend, former Chairman and CEO of Salomon Brothers, of Liar's Poker fame.

  10. predictions!!!!


    Obama (10-15 point spread)
    Clinton (5-10 point spread)


    McCain (10-15 point spread)
    Romney (5 -10 point spread)

    I'm much less confident about the Republicans, particularly in terms of the Huckabee-Paul-Giuliani group. In terms of poll numbers, it would be in the order given above, but polling methods consistently understate Ron Paul's support (every major poll in Iowa predicted him getting lower than his 10%), so it's possible that he might even come in third. Hell of a race this year.


  11. sim city

    is a great game. but i am still dubious about it being assigned it for a college class. firstly, it simplifies urban life down to about 20 variables (at most) and can be mastered with not much skill.

    i can make some of the most ballin' fucking cities you have ever seen. probably the proudest achievements in my life.

    and where did ballon go? she was a really fascinating lecturer and knew her shit (although sometimes she could be a total bitch.)

  12. cualum

    When I took his course, Gutfreund did not tell us to buy Sim City... he said to find out if people we knew had it, and any version would do (I think I did my assignment using the first edition). His lecture course was fantastic and shaped what I did after graduation. While I suppose they can become lecturers instead of full tenured profs - why would someone with a PhD and years as an Asst. Prof take such a demotion? At the end of the day, Gutfreund is a great professor with good experience from Barnard/Columbia and my guess is that he'll be able to get a tenure-track position elsewhere, be it in Urban Studies, History (what he did his PhD in), or Planning/Geography.

    As for Ballon, although she did teach last term at Columbia, she is now a named professor at NYU. Big loss for Columbia.

    I'm hoping that now that Gutfreund will be leaving and Ballon is basically gone, that there will be some strong additions to the Urban Studies program and related fields. It was a great program when I was at CU (though it wasn't my major) and it would be a shame for it to decline.

    • The King of Spain  

      Ballon is more than basically gone. She works for NYU, yes, but she is the director of their new Abu Dhabi campus. Actually she gets to design the campus, which is probably her lifelong dream.

      • correction

        I've spoken to Ballon about her move--she's not designing the campus, she's designing the curriculum. Still, a tragic loss, and one that she's very conflicted about. I bet she'll be back one day.

  13. Sprinkles

    Hilary Ballon is gone? She's a brilliant professor. Columbia should have fought tooth and nail to hold on to her.

    I took a course with Owen Gutfreund, and while I wasn't very fond of his teaching, I'm surprised he didn't get tenure because he's been around so long and does so much.

  14. urbs

    owen is a very fine director - he did a good job cleaning up the program - but i think he is a relatively bad professor. i'm not surprised that he didn't get tenure. part of me agrees with the decision, although the warm fuzzy part of me knows how hard owen works. still, hard work is only part of the puzzle.

    on a side note, am i the only one who feels a bit uncomfortable that bwog posted an email that wasn't public? i mean it wasn't a private email, but i don't know - a "respect for the dead" sort of thing.

  15. what department

    studies Sikh cities?

    Turban Studies!

  16. Alum

    I was very disappointed when I learned a few weeks ago that Ballon had left. I had long thought that she would be the likely successor to Austin Quigley when he steps down as CC dean.

    Keep in mind that she took a very different kind of job at NYU. She is a high-ranking administrator in charge of an entirely new campus, but at Columbia she was just a regular professor. Columbia had no comparable position to offer her and thus no real way to retain her if this is the type of opportunity she wanted.

    Hopefully when the CC deanship becomes available they will offer it to her and she will accept.

  17. Alum

    Btw, Columbia is not one of the universities that rely heavily on adjunct faculty. Comment #10 mentioned that it is a national problem (which it is) and then other commenters reacted as if it is a Columbia problem (which it isn't).

    Some of Columbia's professional schools rely on adjuncts a lot more than CC or SEAS do, but that is the nature of professional programs. Columbia's peers in the same fields rely on adjuncts at least as heavily.

    The major exceptions may be journalism and international affairs, where NYC has more talent CU can draw on. Even then, the adjuncts generally just teach electives that might otherwise not be available.

  18. prof weighs in  

    adjunct profs in arts and sciences make on average $5K/class, and you must have a PhD to get that gig. it is not a way to make a living, clearly.

    After you have been denied tenure you have one year and then you are "out." The tenure thing is "up or out" so Gutfreund has effectively no way to stay, not even as a lecturer.

    Lectureships like those held by some language instructors, are a different animal altogether, not tenure track and reviewed on a periodic (usually 5 yr) basis.

    I'm sure that Owen will do very well. Columbia and Barnard regularly turn down excellent researchers and scholars - and teachers who go on to do great things at other institutions.

  19. sigh again

    Yeah the Music Department losing Prof. Currier was ridiculous...especially considering he won the Grawemeyer right after they let him go. I know they are still having trouble filling his place...

    • Alum

      The Grawemeyer is like the Pulitzer in the sense that it recognizes a specific composition rather than a body of work. Not all Pulitzer winners would be worthy of tenure at Columbia (in fact, some winners have joined/remained at the J-school as junior faculty years after winning), since a single great article is not enough to justify a lifetime appointment. The same is true of the Grawemeyer, especially since CU music professors are usually expected to be scholars more than composers or performers.

  20. 23471230

    5$/class ... wow, that is inhumane. The average Columbia professor teaches at most three courses per semester (I've never seen anyone teach more than that), so that's six classes in one academic year, or 30k$. The starting salary for a public high school teacher with a bachelor's degree is 39k$/yr, you can check this. Are professors really that much driven by their passions?

    How much do tenured professors get at Columbia? A newly tenured professor, I mean.

  21. Jeff Sachs

    gets $300,000 a year and is not tenured to my knowledge.

    • Sprinkles

      I dunno if he'd want tenure - wouldn't it restrict his movement a bit? As a celebrity prof he probably wants as much autonomy as possible.

    • Alum

      Of course Sachs is tenured. And his pay is higher than most -- both because of his stature and because he is the director of the Earth Institute.

      Starting pay for assistant professors varies by discipline. The range is probably from the mid-70's to about $110K for professors of law and business. They also get really good benefits, like free tuition for dependents and subsidized housing.

  22. MAL

    Yeah, another example of Columbia letting smaller departments, that could be excellent, stagnate. Let's see if Urban Studies goes the way of Linguistics.

  23. 1232132

    People like Sachs makes Columbia what it is. If we merely had good teachers, we'd be like any state school.

  24. alum

    Tenure-track humanities professors probably start at around $50k and go up from there. it's not a career that anyone does for the money.

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