Seven professors granted tenure

By Tessa Rodgers | March 19, 2020 10:45am

This spring, the University of Portland Provost’s Office granted tenure to seven professors. Photos courtesy of Brennan Crowder, Natalie Nelson-Marsh and the University of Portland. Canva by Maddie Pfeifer.

The University of Portland Provost’s Office has granted tenure to seven professors. Receiving tenure means that a professor now has the freedom to pursue any academic research without fear of repercussions or of losing their jobs. These professors have earned a permanent position at UP through six years of hard work and dedication.  

The tenure review evaluates a professor’s contributions in the areas of teaching, scholarship, university and community involvement and personal attributes

The Beacon checked in with the newly tenured professors about how they feel about being granted tenure and what they plan to do with their academic freedom.

Shazib Vijlee, Mechanical Engineering

Shazib Vijlee is a mechanical engineering professor at University of Portland.

by Brennan Crowder / The Beacon

“It’s the kind of culmination of a lot of hard work but really it’s more like that I get to feel like I belong here. I was really excited to find out for a long time, there was a lot of excitement and a lot of relief. 

The truth is, going through that process made me feel much better about my size, how I fit here and as I was writing it all down and thinking about what I did and what I can do, it was a really affirming process.

I plan on doing more of the same. I think I'm doing the right things and I like to keep doing it. The idea of tenure, where it came from and the idea of freedom is that people shouldn’t be afraid to study what they want to study. So, to me, the freedom part of tenure is more like I can do what I want to do as opposed to what I’m supposed to do in terms of my research. I've typically done research in energy. Specifically, I studied how biomass — trees and grass and things like that — can be used as energy sources in the developing worlds.”

Alexa Dare, Communication Studies

Alexa Dare is a communication studies professor at University of Portland. Photo courtesy of the University of Portland.

“It’s something I've been working towards my whole adult life. The kind of work I want to do is the work that’s going to make a difference for students and make a difference in the world and getting tenure validates that but it also means I can keep doing that and I think I'm even more focused. I’m not playing somebody else’s game. 

I’ve really been motivated by work on campus that is collaborative, especially across disciplines. So, right now I'm working in the social justice minor and communication and I really want to keep doing that. After tenure, I have a little more flexibility to collaborate with other people. I’m doing student research right now which is especially fun. I’m doing a research project with a student about youth protests in the environmental movement and another about sustainability initiatives on campus. Those are exciting.” 

Nicole Ralston, Education

Nicole Ralston is an education professor at University of Portland.

by Brennan Crowder / The Beacon

“I get to keep working at this amazing institution and with my amazing colleagues, it’s a really great feeling. I was really excited to get tenure. I think my colleagues heard me say “Woo Hoo!” — which is characteristic of me. I guess I'm known for my enthusiasm and exclamation points in the department.

I want to keep focusing on the work. So, I've been thinking about the next step and maybe targeting my scholarship a little bit. I work on a partnership, the Multnomah County Partnership for education research, and we do district driven research for the six local districts, and I love that work and I kind of want to dive deeper into understanding the impacts of that partnership, both on districts and their students and on our students.”

Christopher Lee, Mathematics

Christopher Lee is a mathematics professor at University of Portland. Photo courtesy of University of Portland.

“I’ve been teaching at UP since 2009. I was in a part-time capacity and then visiting and then tenure track and now it’s been 10 years, so it’s been a long time for me. And now I’m more or less just feeling relief and gratitude. There was the anticipation and the anxiety in wondering what the decision was going to be. But there's also a sense of pride and gratitude that you’ve been accepted into a community.

Pre-tenure I needed to focus on research projects that would definitely be published in high profile journals. Now I can explore questions that maybe won't even get published. I do geometry and applied topology which is using our mathematical knowledge of the shape of space and applying it to real-world problems. Part of my research is using this topology to analyze what are called food webs. And I also have far out math questions that probably I may be the only person in the world who's ever thought of in character. That's the nature of mathematics, you get to the point where you are so specialized that the questions you're asking are new questions.”

Susan Murray, Biology

Susan Murray is a biology professor at University of Portland. Photo courtesy of the University of Portland.

“It makes me feel like I’m part of a community here and that I’m valued and that, yeah, I can have a career that I enjoy that’s fairly safe. I think getting tenure was mostly just relief — relief was the emotion. It wasn't that I was particularly worried. I had a good mid-tenure review and my senior faculty had told me that it was very likely that I would get tenure, but you are still nervous. So, I think it was more relief than like unbridled joy or excitement.

I see this as the next phase of my career. I feel like the next stage is becoming more integrated into the university as a whole. I’ve been a little bit sheltered. After tenure, I feel like that’s when you have the opportunity then to be on committees and work in the larger university community and form those collaborations and those ties outside your little bubble. It’ll be really interesting to learn more about how the rest of the university works and meet new colleagues and move into more leadership positions.”

Natalie Nelson-Marsh, Communication Studies

Natalie Nelson-Marsh is a communication studies professor at University of Portland. Photo courtesy of Natalie Nelson-Marsh.

“(Tenure has) been an eye-opening and self-reflective process. Tenure has been in a weird way a homecoming to the University of Portland. I wanted to be here and I wanted to be in a space that really valued teaching as a meaningful experience for students, something that involves not just conceptual ideas but something that’s also based in the heart and in how we apply what we’re doing to make a difference in the world and so it felt like a homecoming to come to the University of Portland. And it feels good to be able to now say this is my home.

What I’m excited to do with tenure is really continue to do a really good job but also build new courses, build new research agendas and contribute to UP. One of the things I'd like to do is teach a qualitative methods class where you study the culture of an organization like an anthropologist, but I want to open that up for how you study power and oppression. And what are some new methods that we could use that are established methods but to study power and oppression and identity and culture that don't just talk about them as they happen but also involve making a difference and practices of change.”

Halina Wyss, Nursing

Halina Wyss is a nursing professor at University of Portland. Photo courtesy of University of Portland.

“I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn't understand what tenure was at all until I was in my mid-tenure and then all of a sudden the reality hit and things got serious and I went, ‘Oh, this is a big deal.’ Yes, it is a big deal. I had no idea what that meant. It’s kind of this big mysterious thing that I've had to explain to everybody. To me, it is a weird thing.

“I hope to continue growing as an educator. I love teaching nursing students and I always want to be better. A lot of my research that I do is student-centered, student-driven, managing stress, nursing students and things like that. So, I'm looking forward to expanding on that and creating the next nursing workforce because we need it. There are always new things to learn and always better ways to do things.”

 Tessa Rodgers is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at