There’s Service…..and Then There’s SERVICE!

Lyle Krusker, assistant professor of chemistry at Syracuse University, was not optimistic about being promoted to associate professor this year.  Yes, he was a respected researcher, and student evaluations of his teaching were positive, but his record of “service to the university” was sketchy.  In the past four years he had only served on one faculty committee, a sleepy little task force responsible for choosing the food trucks that would engorge tailgaters at homecoming.  

Enter Quentin Weft, and his terrifying encounter in early December with a stale breadstick at the Wednesday night Olive Garden Festival in the dining commons.  A sophomore, Quentin literally bit off more than he could chew, and started choking.  Dr. Krusker noticed the emergency and rushed over to administer the Heimlich maneuver to Quentin, saving his life.

When Syracuse’s Tenure and Promotion Committee reviewed Krusker’s application in mid-January, they concluded that this intervention provided credible evidence of his service to the university.  He was awarded tenure and promoted.  As one Committee member put it, “hey, the guy came through in a life-and-death situation involving a tuition-paying student.  Service doesn’t get any more meaningful than that.”

Since then, tenure and promotion committees across the country have started considering the Heimlich maneuver when making decisions.  Of course, certain conditions must be met.  For one thing, only on-campus incidents typically count.  As the Provost of Connecticut College recently observed, “we’re talking about service to the college here.  Saving a random person’s life in a downtown New London restaurant, or on the sidewalk, doesn’t qualify.” 

Moreover, the life-saving attempt must be successful.  A department chair at Fordham University notes that “one of our associate professors failed to dislodge an oversized peach pit from the throat of a freshman, though she tried mightily.  She ended up not getting tenure, and that was the reason.  We’re a performance-based institution.  I don’t mean to be cynical, but Marge would have been better off serving a term or two on the Faculty Senate.  It’s a real shame.”

Unintended consequences have also begun to emerge.   At the College of Charleston, an assistant professor was arrested three weeks ago at the cafeteria’s buffet bar as he attempted to hide chicken bones in the Cobb salad.  And at Lehigh University, a choking undergraduate died as two desperate tenure candidates fought over who was going to give him the Heimlich.  A campus police officer was present at the scene, but wasn’t sure if he had the authority to intervene, given that the academic domains of tenure and promotion were involved.  “We’re going to work with the Provost’s office to develop a policy on how to handle these situations in the future,” said the chief of campus police.  “This incident was embarrassing for everybody, and the student’s parents were not thrilled, as you might imagine.”

The lesson here for higher education administrators?  If you don’t currently have clear guidelines in place for the Heimlich/T&P/Campus Police interface, it’s time to get busy.