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Linguistics Blocks Vaux Tenure Bid

By Dan Rosenheck, Crimson Staff Writer

After he spent nearly a year publicly protesting the the Linguistics department’s handling of his tenure case, Associate Professor of Linguistics Bert Vaux said he was notified yesterday that the department would not put him up for tenure.

The decision almost surely represents the end of Vaux’s nine-year career as a professor at Harvard. Vaux said he has already signed a contract to start teaching as a senior faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) next fall, since he was told by UWM that he could preemptively resign if he was granted tenure at Harvard.

He said he plans to appeal the decision and is setting up a meeting with Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Vince Tompkins. Under guidelines established by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Vaux said he hopes Harvard will establish a review committee of professors outside of Linguistics to review his dossier. The AAUP has no binding authority over Harvard, which does not offer such a procedure.

Vaux said his appeal is justified because the department did not follow proper procedure in his case in two ways.

First, he says he was not notified by Linguistics department chair Jay H. Jasanoff that Linguistics did not plan to recommend him to be reviewed for tenure when he was promoted to associate professor in the 1999-2000 academic year.

Such notice is recommended by the Faculty Appointments Handbook, a set of guidelines for department chairs.

Instead, according to Vaux, Jasanoff said that the chance of his being put up for tenure case was simply “difficult to predict.”

Jasanoff said he did tell Vaux when he was promoted to associate professor that Linguistics might not look to make its next senior appointment in Vaux’s subfield, phonology, which constituted sufficient notification, and that all of his publications were properly reviewed.

Linguistics’ second foul, Vaux said, was that they did not properly review all of his publications before arriving at its decision. Instead, it requested outside experts in phonology to examine his work since he was promoted to associate professor instead of his entire corpus. He said that the department made its decision before he had delivered his full body of work to them.

“When you’re reviewed for full professor, they’re supposed to look at your entire career, not just two years of it,” Vaux said. “This was [Jasanoff’s] machination to break up my career into one part he could factor out and then a small recent part.”

According to Jasanoff, Vaux’s work before his promotion to associate was assessed when he was reviewed for that position three years ago and that those reviews were taken into account in the department’s decision on Vaux’s record.

Jasanoff said he had no knowledge Vaux planned to deliver more documents, but that his entire published record was considered.

“We don’t need physical copies of things to make a decision,” Jasanoff said. “Everything that he wrote was considered in the department’s decision based on his record. Nothing was factored out.”

Outside of his procedural complaints, Vaux defended his record, saying that it was “clearly deserving of review for tenure. This is easily demonstrated by asking any phonologist to look at my record, as opposed to someone who has no knowledge of theoretical linguistics, like my colleagues here.”

Last winter, Vaux e-mailed a few dozen linguistics concentrators outlining the status of his tenure case and reviewing his grievances. Seventeen students attended a meeting to discuss what action could be taken in support of Vaux, and several sent letters to then-Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles.

He planned to leave for UWM after last spring, but a temporary hiring freeze there led him to remain at Harvard.

—Staff writer Dan Rosenheck can be reached at

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