Let's Review...

Oct 07 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Can you smell it in the air? It's annual review season!

One of the early surprises when I got to Employment University was the way they handle the review and tenure process here. When I interviewed I asked a lot about expectations, timeline and general P&T type stuff, but I didn't really think to ask how the actual reviews are done.

Reviews occur at all stages of the game, but assistant profs are reviewed annually, associates every two years and full profs every four. Fair enough, no surprises, until I found out that the process is entirely transparent. The AAUP contract negotiated at the university level specifies that every tt-track person in a department gets to weigh in on the file of everyone else. That means that in my first year, I had the right* to weigh in on someone's tenure case and someone going up for full professor.

I've asked around and can't find another university that does it this way, but they may be out there. In this system there are some advantages, such as being given an in depth look at The Bar for those hoping to make tenure. It also makes a process that is generally shrouded in mystery and wrapped in an enigma, very open. The down side, of course, is that junior faculty are asked to comment on people's files who are senior to them, which can present some conflicts at times. Also, if the decision is grieved the books get opened up and everyone's signed comments are available to the candidate, further muddying the waters. Interestingly, the external evaluation letters for tenure are openly available to the candidate as well, though the letter writers are informed of this.

I do wonder if the openness leads to a more fair evaluation of the candidates or whether it tends to make people less likely to be harsh on a person, even when it is warranted. Will people be brutally honest if they think it might lead to frostiness in the department? I don't know, but I'm sure it depends on the person and their relationship with the candidate.

So how does review work in your department? What are the good and bad aspects of it?

*One can also decline to assess someone, but must do so in writing.

4 responses so far

  • pyrope says:

    Wow - must be both incredibly educational and intimidating to look through files of those up for tenure whilst in your first or second year. My department is also quite transparent, although not quite to that degree. We have very clearly defined requirements for achieving "excellence" in res/teach/serv every year and the U requires excellence in 2/3 (one must be res) for tenure. Of course, everyone aims for 3/3. We have a pretty good rotation through the Dept personnel committee, so all the pre-tenure folks get at least one year early on during which they see everyone else's annual reviews plus any tenure cases up that year. I don't get to vote on tenure cases until after tenure though!

  • Odyssey says:

    It's not as transparent here and all levels are reviewed annually. No one has a say in the reviews of folks further up the food chain (other than periodic reviews of the chair). People up for tenure are allowed to see both internal and external letters if they want. This can be very, very awkward if you've written a letter (or two) saying you don't think someone in your dept has earned tenure*...

    * But that hasn't stopped people from writing such letters where warranted.

  • Hyphaltip says:

    It is the same way in at least some campus/depts of UCalifornia system. I think it helps to have it open that people are reasonably honest and less likely to just give a blanket negative that isnt backed up. As a jr faculty it does feel like you are less likely to voice a strong opinion about sr faculty. It does also mean that every tt in dept can comment semi anonymously and that a negative comments will be seen by the P&T committees above. The challenge is that the chair's letter has to comment on any negative or positive comments so this has to be done with some tact so that one dissenting opinion doesn't overwhelmingly count. The whole Dept can even comment on the chair's letter too so the whole thing seems pretty transparent.

    Having only seen it this way I think it is fair enough, preferring openness at this stage. Maybe if I see someone burned for making a harsh comment I'll change my opinion.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    Back in the good old days, according to our working papers, the Tenure Committee consisted of all tenured faculty, and a recommendation for tenure, or not, was by secret ballot. 60% positive and up you go! The Department Chair could support or oppose the decision of the tenure committee. Promotion Committee consisted of faculty of higher rank. Again up or down was by vote of the committee, 60% or more being up. The Chair could only support the decision of the committee. With my promotion committee hat on, I had voted no on a candidate who received a favorable vote, and was put up for promotion. However, as Department Chair, I convinced my Dean to reverse his no promotion decision. The Department Promotion Committee makes the decision and the Department Chair makes it happen, if needs be. That's how I read the working papers, anyway.

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