Internationalization and Tenure

As universities seek to globalize, should they include internationally focused criteria in their tenure and promotion policies? A new report analyzes policies with such indicators.

November 10, 2015

Should universities incorporate internationally focused criteria in their tenure and promotion policies?

A majority of institutions (52 percent) have identified internationalization as one of their top five strategic priorities, but only a minority (8 percent) report having guidelines in place specifying international work or experience as a consideration in faculty tenure and promotion decisions. Those findings, from the American Council on Education’s 2011 “Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses” survey, prompted the organization to do an analysis of 91 tenure and promotion policies from 61 institutions -- primarily doctoral- and master's-level universities -- that do include internationally focused language in their tenure and promotion policies.

Among the findings of that new analysis released today, ACE found evidence of a gap between institutions’ stated priorities for internationalization -- which generally relate to student learning -- and the relative lack of references to internationally focused teaching criteria in tenure and promotion policies. The top two motivations given by the 61 universities for internationalizing were “to improve student preparedness for a global era” and to “develop a more globally oriented curriculum and pedagogy,” but references to international criteria were more commonly found in research- and service-related sections of tenure and promotion policies than in sections related to teaching.

“There seems to be a disconnect between what do institutions say they want to accomplish and what message they’re sending to faculty in terms of what’s important in terms of international engagement,” said Robin Matross Helms, the associate director for research at ACE’s Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement and author of the new report, “Internationalizing the Tenure Code: Policies to Promote a Globally Focused Faculty.”

ACE’s findings resist generalizations: the report describes tenure policies as being “like snowflakes -- no two are alike.” Further, they’re set at different levels of the institution -- universitywide, college- or schoolwide, or departmentwide. Some of the policies examined include blanket language on “contributions to internationalization,” e.g.:

“The university’s strong commitment to internationalization and international activities may be reflected in any or all of these categories (teaching, scholarship and creative activity, and service). Internationalization is defined as any activity that advances understanding of other cultures and/or international issues. Individuals should address international endeavors in their narrative in the category that pertains to the activity.”

Twenty-four of the 91 policies examined include references to internationally focused teaching criteria. About half of those 24 policies specifically cite teaching abroad; about a third cite involvement in developing, directing and/or delivering international programs.

By comparison, 52 of the 91 policies mention international research activity, with the most commonly cited activity being presentations at international conferences. Forty-five of the policies include specific references to international service-related activity, with nearly half of these specifically citing contributions to international professional or disciplinary associations.

Finally, 47 of the 91 tenure and promotion codes ask candidates to speak to their international scholarly reputation (e.g. “Candidates should demonstrate that their work is respected within their community of scholars at the national and/or international level”).

The ACE report stresses the key role faculty members play in helping universities reach their internationalization goals. “Fostering a global focus among faculty in the early stages of their careers sets the stage for continued interest and activity in the international realm, and helps institutions build a globally engaged professoriate from the ground up,” the report states. “For those institutions that have committed to internationalization as a key goal, tenure policies and procedures can be a powerful mechanism by which to incentivize -- and, importantly, reward -- early-career faculty engagement in internationalization. Incorporating globally focused criteria into standards for promotion and tenure gives junior faculty license to bring this work to the top of the list of competing priorities, and ensures that spending time on these activities will not hurt their tenure prospects.”

At the same time the report warns that the inclusion of internationally focused criteria in tenure and promotion policies may not be appropriate for every institution. “While a variety of aspects of internationalization may be appropriate first steps in different institutional contexts, making internationally oriented changes to the tenure code is not among these,” the ACE report states. “Given the multitude of competing demands on junior faculty time, adding additional requirements or expectations for tenure and promotion is almost always a controversial proposition. If internationalization is not firmly embedded in the culture and operations of the institution -- to the extent that many faculty are already substantially engaged in and committed to internationalization-related activities -- then attempts to incorporate such activities into promotion and tenure requirements will almost certainly be met with resistance, and ultimately, are unlikely to succeed.”

The report also notes the significance of the word “or,” noting that “the majority of internationally focused criteria and indicators included in tenure codes include ‘or’ or ‘and/or’ phrases (e.g., ‘service to local, national and/or international professional organizations’). Or particular internationalization-related activities are included among an array of options for how instructors can demonstrate competence in a given area of faculty work (teaching, research, service, etc.).”

“At the end of the day, the ‘international’ piece is usually, in effect, optional, which raises questions about the extent to which adding such language to the tenure code is likely to actually move the needle on faculty engagement in internationalization,” the report states. “In many contexts, and for many faculty activities, however, this optionality simply may be necessary. Would it be realistic, for example, to require all faculty to present at international conferences? What if, for instance, the mission of an institution reflects a strong focus on addressing local issues? While some faculty may indeed do work that is of interest to an international audience, faculty whose research focuses on the ‘local’ aspect of the mission should not be penalized for not presenting at an international conference. Or … if the institution is not in a position to provide funding for faculty to travel internationally, then adding such a requirement to the tenure code may be unreasonable or inappropriate.”

At the same time Helms, the report author, said the inclusion of internationally focused criteria in tenure and promotion policies can serve as a “sign post.”

“It does send a message that if you are doing this kind of work it is valued.”


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