Friday, April 4, 2008

Jumping Through Tenure Hoops

Dr. Crazy has a very thoughtful post today and link to this article. Very timely, I must say, since I have a number of colleagues who will be receiving their Dean's level tenure letters today. The final and formal "you've got tenure" letter comes from the Provost's office in late May, but every letter along the way occasions a celebration and sigh of relief. My institution is more like Dr. Crazy's than Baylor (with its 2012 plan), even though our U. President instituted a similar plan (with year date and all!) when he arrived. But his plan is not really about academics--it's about sports complexes and putting the university on the map of more non-commuter students who want better dorms and campus life, etc.). We, too, have traditionally had a 4/4 course load (though we are now going as a department to a 3/3 teaching load--and those who teach really large courses and got a course release under the 4/4, will now have a 2/2. I'll just say here, that I'm not sure how well this will work since it is going to be tough to cover our grad seminars offerings, required courses in the major, and all the cash cow GE courses we offer if we have a so-called lighter teaching load--but I'm willing to give it a shot and voted for it. Next fall will be the test-run.) Back to tenure requirements and so forth: our teaching *must* (according to the University document that guides departments and colleges in establishing their own minimal standards), weight teaching at least 51% in the tenure profile. Scholarship comes next, weighted at 30% in my dept., university service (split across the dept., college, and university) is next, followed by community service at a big 5%. This latter category requires us to represent our academic field in the community (all about the university being a good citizen in the metropolitan area). While there is a bunch of play in the wheel in each of these categories (more than there should be in my opinion), the most substantial change in tenure requirements at my university and in my department came in the late 90s (before I was hired) when our newly arrived dean ramped up the scholarly standards (or tried to). Most people got the speech from him during their on-campus interview about needing to establish a good record of publication (always introduced into conversation--we later compared notes--this way: "Now, I'll bet you were walked over here [to his office] by a long-time faculty member who told you that you don't need to worry about publishing, because this is a teaching university. Well, that is wrong. You'll need to publish here, and I don't mean a chapter in an edited volume, I mean peer-reviewed journals"). Of course, most of us welcomed that speech because we did not want to be at a place that didn't value (our) scholarship. How well the departments in his/my college enforced this will be interesting to see. (Even within my own department, there is huge variation in standards and the "long-time faculty" who walked us to the Dean's office played favorites with the junior faculty who used disciplinary language reminiscent of my field in the 1950s and 60s. These favorites of mostly now retiring senior faculty were held to lower standards and these favorites seemed happy, weirdly enough, to be performing at substantially lower teaching and scholarly standards than the rest of us). Well, this former Dean is now Provost, and there are some people coming up for tenure (even within his former college) who probably aren't going to have met the higher standards for scholarship OR teaching that he had hoped to set. Thus, it will be very interesting to see how their tenure files fare at the Provost level of review. No doubt, most of these people will have been supported at the departmental level in their bid for tenure, so that ought to assure their success. But, as the Baylor article (linked above) notes, this is not always a free pass. Our Provost has made lots of public speeches across campus over the years claiming that our tenure rate is far too high and standards far too low (or meaningless). It will be late May before we know whether there was any bite to his bark. I sort of suspect not, because any time conversation turns to tenure standards, it does so in the vocabulary and discourse of faculty grievances. Still, I am a believer in the tenure process for all the reasons Dr. Crazy cites, and more, because the process of earning tenure is also the process of becoming vested in the long term health and success of one's academic community.


Anastasia said...

I was on the lookout for any signs of institutional at my campus interview. there are few things worse as far as I'm concerned than an institution that doesn't understand itself. baylor seems like a case of that in terms of expecting research on par with universities with superior resources. it's unfair to faculty and students.

Auto Ethnographer said...

One of the very best questions to ask of the faculty, chair, and dean at your next interview is about clarity of the tenure standards. Almost all chairs and deans will be very quick to tell you about competitive internal grant opportunties that will help you stay on the scholarly path you're on while you're in (or right out of) grad school. All well and good. The real issue is a clear definition of what those minimal publishing requirements are. Many university websites can be searched for the university-wide document that outlines minimal standards. Once you achieve some sense of clarity about publishing standards, then ask your faculty contacts (individually *and* in small groups) if they find the teaching load and publishing standards to be in balance.

Southern Heart said...

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Once again, thank you for such a thoughtful message! Please let me know if you think of anything else you might enjoy seeing again.