Many of our readers are presumably on the job-market right now, hoping get a tenure-track job. My experience on both sides of the market--both as a job-candidate and search-committee member--is that a fair number of job-candidates do not actually know that much about tenure requirements or what can affect tenure decisions. Indeed, I didn't know very much about these things when I was out on the market...and I've recently met candidates in a similar position. Because most candidates are presumably not merely looking for a tenure-track job, but ultimately want to get tenure, I thought it might be good to have a thread on theses issues.
Allow me to share some of the things I think I've learned about these matters in my time in the profession, and then open up things to you all--to add your own impressions and experiences, correct things you think I've gotten wrong, and so on.
1. Tenure requirements can be very different at different institutions
I take it most people know that tenure requirements can be very different at different types of schools. What I'm not so sure of is how aware people are of just how different they can be at different types of places. On the one hand, I've heard of tenure requirements at highly ranked R1 schools being something like this: at least 6 publications (1 per year) in 'highly-ranked journals'. Notice just how high of a bar this is. One can only imagine how stressful it might be to get a job with that kind of tenure-requirement hanging over your head. And indeed, I've heard there are some R1 schools notorious for denying tenure to people with really good publication records.
On the flip side, I've personally known people at teaching institutions who have gotten tenure with a single publication, not necessarily in a highly-ranked journal--because their school values teaching far more than research. Finally, I've known more than a few people at institutions with requirements at various places in between these two extremes: places where one needs "multiple publications" for tenure, but not necessarily publications at top journals; places where one needs at least one publication in a "top journal" for tenure; and so on. So, that's the first thing to know: tenure standards can be dramatically different at different institutions. Because tenure requirements can have wide-reaching implications--both for one's well-being on the job, and for one's probability of tenure--it can be really important to know what tenure-requirements are before accepting a job.
2. Some places have clear tenure requirements, some don't
On a related note, the level of clarity of expectations for tenure can vary widely at different institutions. Some institutions have very clear and detailed expectations (viz. 'X number of articles in Y-ranked journals'). Other institutions may have much more nebulous requirements (viz. 'Evidence of teaching innovation and success' or 'Successful publishing record'). Once again, it can be important to be aware of these kinds of differences. The more nebulous tenure requirements are, the more room they leave for tenure decisions to be decided by "human judgment" (and the less able one may be to appeal a negative tenure-decision).
3. Some institutions include outside letters/examiners in tenure decisions, some don't
I've heard it is common for tenure-decisions at R1 institutions to include either "external letters" from experts in the profession outside of one's institution, or even include an outside person (from another institution) on the tenure-committee itself. Is this right? If so, it's important to recognize that this isn't true at all institutions. Some institutions either merely allow outside letters, and others may even prohibit any kind of external input in tenure decisions. Notice that these seem to be important differences too. If one gets a TT job at the first kind of institution (one involving outside letters, etc.), one has an extra burden in seeking tenure: in terms of networking, having a good "reputation" beyond one's own institution, and so on.
4. Some institutions count work prior to the job, others don't
Here's another important way that tenure standards can differ. Some institutions (a good many, or so I've heard) count nothing towards tenure that one has accomplished before one begins the job. Yes, that's right: at some institutions, one can have, say, 10 publications in really good journals before getting the job in question--and yet none of those publications will count toward tenure. Other institutions, or so I've heard, are quite different: they'll count everything!
5. Some institutions may only count actually published work, not forthcoming work
There are, or so I've been told, places where merely forthcoming articles may not be counted for tenure. Yes, even if they are officially accepted, they may not be counted. This might seem strange, it might seem wrong; but I've heard it can occur (am I wrong?). I've heard a certain kind of rationale for it: namely, that some candidates for tenure rush to publish "too late", and so the fact that they may only have articles forthcoming by the tenure-decision date is thereby a real strike against them (indicating that they hadn't published enough during their tenure-clock).
6. Get tenure expectations in writing
For all of these reasons, I've been told job-candidates should always ask up front what tenure requirements are, and be sure to get them in writing. Not unexpectedly, I've heard horror-stories...of people who were "told" their tenure requirements were X, only to find out years later that their actual tenure requirements were Y. (How so, you ask? Answer: tenure-requirements at a given university or department can change over time!)
7. Context may make a difference in tenure decisions
Finally, I've heard that it can matter to tenure-committees when one publishes. So, for instance, consider two candidates:
- Candidate 1 published 6 articles total, one article during each year of their time on the job.
- Candidate 2 also published 6 articles, but they all came in their final year before tenure-review.
I've heard (am I wrong?) that this sort of thing may make a difference in some cases--that a committee may be more comfortable voting for tenure for Candidate 1 than for Candidate 2, due to Candidate 1 appearing more internally motivated and consistent as a researcher. A worry about Candidate 2, or so I've heard, can be something like this: "If the candidate only published at very last moment in order to get tenure, are they motivated enough to keep publishing after they get tenure?" I am not sure how common these types of contextual concerns are (or how big of a role they may play), but I have heard that they can make a difference. And I take it that similar contextual concerns can also occur in the context of teaching and service.
Anyway, these are some things that I've heard that I thought readers might find helpful. If I'm off on any of this, please do feel free to chime in and let me know! Is there anything I got wrong? Is there anything important that I missed? Please do chime in. Hopefully, our readers on the job-market will benefit from a good, open discussion. :)