Posts Tagged ‘Tenure and Promotion’

At my previous institution, a few peer-reviewed publications and evidence of continued “scholarly activity” (such as conference presentations) were enough for tenure. These publications could be on any topic in any publication as long as it was peer-reviewed. At my current institution, the picture is considerably less clear.

The major change is in what counts and how much. As at many institutions, all peer-reviewed publications are not created equally. Nobody is expected to publish in ASR or AJS but things like impact factor are considered. The type of research also matters. As one colleague stated, publishing in outlets like Teaching Sociology is like a cherry on top of a sundae, but it isn’t the sundae. They also like to see progress in these areas, so one high-profile publication followed by three lower-ranking publications is not as desirable as the reverse would be.

All of this makes the publication gauntlet that much more daunting. There is also uncertainty, though, about when one wants things to be accepted and published while moving along the tenure track. The third-year review, for example, is less of a formality and essentially the same in practice as the tenure review (requiring the exact same documents). This means that publications are essential for passing the third-year review but there are cases in which individuals with a few publications at this point neglected to tell the tenure and promotion committee about a paper that had been recently accepted so that it would be seen as “new” at the tenure review.

The final issue that I’ve encountered is a lack of information about what actually counts as “published.” Accepted papers do not seem to have the same weight as those that have actually been published (indicated in the fact that they are not requested as part of the review). “Published,” though, encompasses a wide variety of things today. Some journals have long lead times before publication in print, others have long lead times but “online first” availability in the meantime, and others have short lead times (or even all-online publishing) but questionable impact factors.

Together, these factors make a process that I breezed through at my previous institution much more stressful (I haven’t even had time to work on my time machine!).

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While I realize that the article I link to below is ancient in internet years, it fits with the recent theme of tenure reviews.  Also, it is so old that it is likely new for many who, like me, are just starting out in this process.  At any rate, you may be aware of some of the exploits of Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr., which included running from boulders and looking for tin cups but did not, whatever anybody tells you, include hiding in a refrigerator during nuclear testing or interacting with extraterrestrials.  At any rate, you may have wondered what happened to him after the things that caused Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to make biographical movies about him.  Sadly, McSweeney’s has uncovered the results of his tenure review and they were not positive.  Here are a few highlights:

Demonstrates suitable experience and expertise in chosen field:

The committee concurred that Dr. Jones does seem to possess a nearly superhuman breadth of linguistic knowledge and an uncanny familiarity with the history and material culture of the occult. However, his understanding and practice of archaeology gave the committee the greatest cause for alarm. Criticisms of Dr. Jones ranged from “possessing a perceptible methodological deficiency” to “practicing archaeology with a complete lack of, disregard for, and colossal ignorance of current methodology, theory, and ethics” to “unabashed grave-robbing.” Given such appraisals, perhaps it isn’t surprising to learn that several Central and South American countries recently assembled to enact legislation aimed at permanently prohibiting his entry.

Demonstrates successful record in undergraduate and graduate teaching:

In his nine years with the department, Dr. Jones has failed to complete even one uninterrupted semester of instruction. In fact, he hasn’t been in attendance for more than four consecutive weeks since he was hired. Departmental records indicate Dr. Jones has taken more sabbaticals, sick time, personal days, conference allotments, and temporary leaves than all the other members of the department combined.

The lone student representative on the committee wished to convey that, besides being an exceptional instructor, a compassionate mentor, and an unparalleled gentleman, Dr. Jones was extraordinarily receptive to the female student body during and after the transition to a coeducational system at the college. However, his timeliness in grading and returning assignments was a concern.

The story is not entirely a sad one, however, as shortly after his dismissal Jones was hired by a top research university, where his notoriety helped attract affluent students who wanted to study with him despite the fact that his teaching load was 0-0.  Years later, faced with pressure from a new university president, it is said that he took on a young British graduate student by the name of Lara Croft (who may or may not have been a Russian spy known as Evelyn Salt).

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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.

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Because the tenure process is nearly as mysterious as the job market, I am glad that my institution provides feedback at multiple points along the way.  Specifically, I have a two-year review, a four-year review, and the tenure review.  Because these reviews occur at the end of the specified years, candidates turn in their materials roughly half a semester early, which results in the recent submission of files for my two-year review.

While I appreciate feedback, the idea of turning in materials for a two-year review is strange to me on multiple levels.  In one way, I feel like I have just started and can’t possibly be nearing the end of my second year.  In another way, I feel like the process of distilling my accomplishments over the past year and a half down to a series of papers, syllabi, evaluations, and bulleted lists borders on homeopathy.  Like homeopathy, I wonder how much effect the original substance can possibly have on the diluted result.  Does a syllabus say much about the experience of creating and teaching a course?

In addition to a three-ring binder, the tenure and promotion committee will receive evaluations of my teaching from four faculty members, each of whom observed roughly one class session of my teaching.  I have similar questions about the effectiveness of these evaluations as a gauge of a student’s classroom experience.  In response to my recent workload, I would tell myself to take it easy if I were on the T&P committee.  It will be interesting to hear their actual responses, which I will surely try to distill down to a blog post.

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