• Prose and Purpose

    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.

Title

Passion

I’ve been waiting to write a blog with a racy message. However, my title of “passion” isn’t describing a steamy relationship; rather it describes an intellectual relationship between a dean, department chairperson, and/or tenure or promotion committee chair, and the accomplishments of the tenure/promotion candidate that is being written about. I have read thousands of tenure letters from all the participants in the process and I have written hundreds of letters recommending tenure.

June 26, 2011
 

I’ve been waiting to write a blog with a racy message. However, my title of “passion” isn’t describing a steamy relationship; rather it describes an intellectual relationship between a dean, department chairperson, and/or tenure or promotion committee chair, and the accomplishments of the tenure/promotion candidate that is being written about. I have read thousands of tenure letters from all the participants in the process and I have written hundreds of letters recommending tenure. What registers most on the next step in the process – a letter that comes across as boilerplate or a letter that articulately and passionately describes why the person deserves tenure or promotion?

Too many letters are of the boilerplate variety. Each point is touched on that needs to be touched on – teaching, scholarship, and service are all discussed but often without noting why this is a compelling candidacy. The student evaluations and peer observations are OK; the articles, chapters and or books are OK; and the service is OK. If this is the standard for tenure and promotion, recommendations like this should serve the purpose. But often the standard for tenure or promotion requires excellence in one or more of these categories. And for tenure especially, there should be no doubts.

Boilerplate letters often don’t do justice to the outstanding candidate for tenure and or promotion. Sometimes such letters are prepared because “everything is OK” is the best that can be said. More than once in my career, a department chair, a committee chair, or a dean have written such letters, come to such conclusions because it really was the best that could be said about the candidate and perhaps even more than the best. If Ok is the best we can say, is this tenure or promotion deserved?

And sometimes, the letters that are written do a tremendous disservice to the candidate. The candidate is clearly outstanding, awesome, a tremendous asset, and deserving of tenure or promotion but the letters don’t convey that level of achievement. Every personnel statement should strive to do justice to the person’s record. If the record is outstanding, the letter documenting those achievements should make the case persuasively.

Everyone involved in the tenure or promotion process should make sure the letters written are the strongest most passionate accurate assessment that can be compiled about the candidate. If each of us viewed our letter as the critical document in the process and the key to the candidate’s promotion and or tenure, letters in general would be at a much higher caliber. Promotion or tenure should not be a judgment call; the facts and the resulting documentation should be compelling. What a loss it would be to the University if this person was not tenured or promoted. Let the passion be real and let the passion shine through.

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