I have been spending the last few days reviewing my tenure and promotion recommendations to the President. Each tenure and promotion candidacy has a file that has multiple recommendations, starting at the department level after the candidate has presented his or her tenure/promotion portfolio. Once that portfolio is prepared and submitted, the candidacy is reviewed and a recommendation is provided by the department chair, and the Ad Hoc Tenure Committee or the Promotion Committee. The process continues at the college or school/division level with another faculty review followed by a dean’s review. After that review, if there are disagreements, the candidacy is referred to a University Appeals Board followed by my review, the president’s review and action by the Board of Trustees. Copies of the substantial recommendations are always given to the candidate and the candidate is always given an opportunity to respond. So far the transparency is clear.
However, for the process to work well expectations also need to be transparent and known from the point in time that the candidate first joined the University or first considered submitting for promotion. And here we are also doing well—the standard of teaching excellence and how we measure that excellence is well known and well established. In regard to scholarship, we have reached the point where each department has clearly stated the qualifications (e.g., expectations in terms of number and quality of journal articles/books/presentations/grants/performances) for tenure and promotion. The one area where there is still some ambiguity is service. We want every faculty member to be involved and recognize that for a college or university to move forward, there needs to be a culture of faculty service. However we have not spelled out specific service expectations in detail but everyone recognizes that the service has to be significant.
What helps further minimize this ambiguity is the annual evaluation of every full-time faculty member (other than first year faculty members), which asks every faculty member to memorialize in detail what the person has done the previous year and then provides an opportunity for a chair and dean to comment. If the faculty member is in disagreement with any of those comments, the person can add comments to the record. We also have for untenured faculty regular reappointments which provide extensive feedback. Therefore, not only is there a comprehensive tenure and promotion review process, but there are frequent (at least annual) reviews that serve as an important barometer of progress and lack of progress. And there are clear expectations of what a person is expected to do.
The bottom line, which is inherent in transparency, is that there should be no surprises. And we have come a long, long way in making this a reality that is fair to all concerned. Higher education isn’t perfect in this regard but overall we are doing well. If you go back to when I started in higher education, there was a very different culture – little transparency, few expectations clearly stated, and a much greater ability to adjust the “standards” to fit whether you liked or did not like the person being judged. Years ago, in going through some old files in the Provost’s office, I came across a personnel recommendation from a senior administrator that simply stated “Good guy. Should be tenured.’’ We can all take pride in the progress we have made. More work remains to be done but the commitment in the higher education community is strongly in support of clear standards, a transparent process, continuous feedback: all adding up as it should, to a fair chance to succeed.