Given the emphasis that academics place on tenure, I assume that most colleges and universities have some sort of review for junior faculty before the one that determines whether they will be asked to pack their things and leave. Some schools review junior faculty in their third year while others, such as my own, review junior faculty in their second and fourth years before the tenure review in their sixth year (assuming that they were not given credit for years at another institution and that they do not stop the tenure clock along the way). Of course, the materials for these reviews are often due during the academic year, so they are more like 1.5, 2.5, or 3.5-year reviews. Regardless of the time frame, they are intended to give junior faculty members feedback on things they could/should/must improve and, in some cases, provide them with time to start seeking employment elsewhere.
Having recently completed my own two-year review, I have several thoughts. The first is that I am glad to have these reviews, despite the amount of work involved in preparing materials for them. I am also glad to have two pre-tenure reviews instead of one. Given the uncertainty surrounding tenure expectations at any given institution it is nice to get some feedback along the way. My second thought is that it is hard to believe I have already completed two years as a faculty member. Beyond the usual realization that time goes so fast, this puts the tenure clock itself in perspective. I simply have not had much time in the past two years to establish myself as a scholar, though I am making progress in that area. Even with a slightly lower teaching load it is hard to imagine my output being much higher. The pre-tenure reviews, as a result, are crucial for letting me know whether this is acceptable for faculty members at my institution.
My final thought on the process is that it was anticlimactic. While I have never been led to believe I was doing something wrong, I was eager to hear what the committee thought I needed to improve. Instead of setting some goals for me, though, they basically said “keep up the good work.” Obviously, I am happy with that message, but it seems that it will be hard to show improvement when it is time for subsequent reviews. For example, I doubt that it is wise to start a tenure application with the following statement: “Dear Tenure Committee, Because I was so awesome when you hired me and I have not changed my approach to teaching, research, or service, I am still awesome today and, thus, would like to receive tenure so that I may remain awesome at this institution until such time as conceptions of awesomeness have changed, at which point I intend to remain at this institution at least a decade longer to remind new faculty what awesomeness looked like at the turn of the century.” On the other hand, could tenure really be denied based solely on this type of jackassery? If anybody wants to try it, let me know how it goes.