Opening Up the Tenure Process

Bill Wolff explains why he put all of his documents online for all to see, and why other faculty members should too.

July 25, 2012

On June 12, I posted all of my recontracting, tenure and promotion documents online along with some thoughts about the recontracting process for faculty and graduate students. I had been meaning to put these documents online for some time now, with my initial goal to do so after being awarded tenure. The birth of my son two days before being awarded tenure prevented me from doing that. If time had permitted I would have made an online version of my tenure application but time didn’t permit back in August 2010. This essay briefly explains my rationale for putting these documents online.

To make visible a process that is often opaque, confusing and intimidating to new (and seasoned) faculty.

Much of what we do in academia is opaque, confusing, and intimidating — to those within the academy and outside the academy. It starts with the dissertation process and continues through the hiring process and the recontracting process. My academic philosophy has been to make visible what is often hidden, which is why all of my course information is online and at some point a few years ago I began the process of putting course evaluations online. Putting the recontracting documents (which contain course evaluations) online is a natural extension of my philosophy. And since the recontracting documents are reflections of my work, they very nicely coalesce and explain what I have been doing in my teaching, scholarship, creative activity, and service, why I’m doing what I do, how they all connect, and why the work is important — for me, the department, the university, and the field.

I am also very aware that my department, the department of writing arts, is one of the few stand-alone writing departments in the country, and perhaps the only one located within a college of communication. These institutional contexts help inform our department values and the guidelines we have composed to evaluate our faculty. My recontracting documents from the third year packet and onward contain the department’s recontracting, tenure and promotion guidelines. The guidelines, I think, are a model for other such departments and concentrations housed within English departments that are considering the possibility of become stand-alone.

This is also a call to faculty on recontracting, tenure and promotion committees to begin the mentoring process of new faculty through the recontracting process as soon as possible regardless of when their first materials are due to be evaluated (at Rowan the first packet is due in the second semester at the university). It took me several years to figure out a useful system for archiving all necessary documents, to learn how to leverage the language of the recontracting contracts in my own packet, and to see my packet as one long argument for why what I do at the university is valuable. Discussions with tenured faculty about how to approach these and other important topics relating to the process would have better prepared me for what to expect as the packet was being evaluated. I’m not saying to make the process easy for new faculty, just to provide faculty with guidelines that will help them compose the most effective packets they can. All faculty in a department are invested in a new faculty member’s success. The more we can do to help them help themselves, the more successful departments will be.

To show what a process is like at a master's-level university that values teaching over scholarly production.

Too often online and real-life discussions of recontracting, tenure, and promotion focus solely on these processes at research universities, even though the majority of faculty working in higher education in the United States are not at such institutions. They are at master’s-level or four-year universities, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges. The work faculty do at those universities is vital for students and higher education, overall. By putting these documents online, along with a discussion of the recontracting process, I hope to provide some insight into what it is like at a master’s-level university — that is, what the process looks like when teaching is the primary area in which one is evaluated.

To provide a possible model for how writing and rhetoric faculty might contextualize the work they and their students do with blogs, Twitter, video composition, remix, and other social composing spaces and genres.

Almost two years ago I posted a lengthy discussion, “on blogging, tweeting, professional & course web sites, and tenure,” in response to a HASTAC post. In my post I come to the conclusion that yes, of course, they should count, but where they are discussed in the packet and in what context they are discussed is specific to each college and university because each college and university department has specific recontracting guidelines. My goal in posting the recontracting packets is to provide examples of how one might discuss in their own packets blogging and tweeting for professional purposes and asking students to use social media to enhance their learning experiences. Most of my discussion of such work is located in a section called “Excellence in Developing as a Teacher” — so named because that is the heading in the Memorandum of Agreement which we use at Rowan. But discussions of social media, information technologies and the digital humanities also appear in my teaching philosophy, my course rationales, and other places, and each mention reinforces the importance of the use of such media for my teaching, learning, research, and professional development.

To introduce the recontracting, tenure and promotion processes to graduate students who for the most part are not taught about it.

I don't even recall thinking about the idea of recontracting when I was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. I was too focused on my dissertation, major life changes and getting a job to consider what happens after one actually starts in a new position. This is unfortunate, as there is a direct line from dissertation to job to recontracting, tenure, and promotion. The work students do in their dissertations affects where they will get an interview, which will affect where they get a job and so on. Dissertations become the books that faculty at research universities need to be granted tenure and individual chapters become the journal articles that faculty at other colleges and universities need to be granted tenure.

More importantly, however, being made aware of the possible varieties in the recontracting, tenure, and promotion processes at different types of institutions will make graduate students more savvy and deliberate job applicants and new faculty members. As graduate students, we are all taught to strive for the research university, and non-research universities are like the “safety schools” of the application process. They often receive application letters that were clearly written for a research university but with that particular school’s department and job type pasted in. This does a disservice to both to the non-research institutions that are searching for applicants as well as the applicants themselves, many of whom, despite what they might believe, will find very rewarding careers at institutions that value teaching over research (though, of course, research must be completed wherever you are). By becoming more aware of the opportunities afforded by different levels of institutions and what is required for tenure and promotion, students can compose job letters and materials that are more geared toward that specific university. They can ask informed questions in interviews about recontracting processes (applicants rarely do; I certainly didn’t). As new faculty members, they can begin to compose a research trajectory that complements the institution’s recontracting goals and processes. And if they find that their own goals don’t complement the institution's, they can decide to move on early in their career. The key point here, though, is that if graduate students are more aware of the kinds of things that will be asked of them as faculty, we will ultimately have better-prepared job applicants and faculty members.

To encourage other faculty to do the same.

In "Ending Knowledge Cartels," David Parry argues that “that increasingly academic interests are running counter to that of the publishing industry. And while I find recent calls to move towards open scholarship such as the Harvard Letter important, I think that economic justification is not the primary reason we ought to pursue open scholarship. In short I think this is a moral issue. Knowledge Cartels are increasingly controlling, and restricting knowledge production and dissemination.” Our tradition of keeping recontracting documents private also “restrict[s] knowledge production and dissemination.” I, too, see this as a moral issue. So much of what we do in the computers and writing and digital humanities communities is online already; faculty need to make the next step by putting online those documents that result in their professional advancement. Doing so will help make clear processes that are too opaque.



Bill Wolff is an associate professor of writing arts at Rowan University. This essay is adapted from one he posted on his blog.


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