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Faculty research affected by tenure denials

April 11, 2008

By Shannon Daily
Staff writer

Bright red ink spells out the date April 18, 2008 on the whiteboard in Dr. Randall Jean's office.

Jean, an associate professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering, has seven more days to complete and file his appeal for the decision to deny his tenure that was made in late March.

"The universal practice for tenure is, after a certain period of time a faculty member comes under review. They either get a lifetime appointment, which is tenure, or they get a terminal contract, and their contract is up and will not be renewed. It's a very drastic thing," said Dr. Robert Marks, a distinguished professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering.

Marks and Jean have been working together over the past few years to develop a non-invasive test for blood-sugar levels. Their research received large amounts of attention in February once it reached a new stage of testing, bringing the researchers one step closer to having a marketable product.

"I have joint research with Dr. Jean, but I have a different expertise than he does, so for the research to continue we both have to participate," Marks said. "That's just the way it is."

With Jean's tenure still in the appeals process, the possible continuation of the research is up in the air.

For professors denied tenure, after they leave the university, "If they get into academia, they'll be able to continue their work. If someone picks them up who's interested in the blood-glucose sample, for instance, with Dr. Jean, then he will continue," Marks said.

Basically, with the proper funding, professors will be able to continue with their work, Marks said. They will, however, have to get approval from the university and from the agency providing the funding, to take the money with them wherever they go.

Another aspect of research that's affected by a professor leaving a university, such as when they're denied tenure, is the revenue that the professor's patented products could bring to the institution.

"When a professor invents something, the university kind of technically owns it. It's just like if I worked for Boeing and I came up with a new widget and got a patent, they would own it because I was technically working for them at the time that I did that," Marks said.

Typically the university licenses the patent to somebody who's interesting in developing it, and they make a percentage of money as well, Marks said.

"It can lead to up to millions of dollars in revenue," Marks said. "That's one thing that will be lost, especially with Dr. Jean, is the potential of the patent and the revenue that Baylor would make. And of course Baylor's very nice because they give the inventor a percentage of it too."

Jean said that when a professor is denied tenure, what he or she puts up for patent is a personal decision

"I just sent a potential patent application to the Baylor patent lawyer, because that was the right thing to do," Jean said. "In other words, I could've just kept that in my pocket and said 'Bye Baylor,'"

However, he said, because he developed a new aspect of the blood-sugar test, what he'd been doing would've technically been Baylor's property because he's on the Baylor payroll.

Right now, the professors denied tenure who have chosen to appeal the decision, are still in the process of completing their appeals. After the appeals are submitted, the Office of the Provost and the tenure committee will take them into consideration.

There is no deadline for when the professors will be notified as to whether or not their appeals were accepted.

Director of Media Relations Lori Fogleman said, "In the tenure policy and procedures document, there is no reference to a specific timeline in the reconsideration process. So, right now the tenure process is ongoing."

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