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Martin Shuster

Ash - this sounds miserable. I am very sorry to hear about this.

I think the biggest and most immediate thing you should is just to take some time to yourself. When you're ready to engage with this issue, I would explore any possibility of appeal or legal action (is it possible that some procedural issue wasn't followed? could there be other grounds for appeal?)

If that's not possible, then I would think about where you want to go from here. Plenty of people get denied tenure and get jobs afterwards (I'm assuming you have next year) and so you'll need to apply if you want to do that. Of course, it is mentally exhausting and perhaps you don't want to bother.

*Anything you decide is fine*.

I really want to stress that: you can and will be successful at something else if that is what you decide to do (even if it looks daunting now). It is hard (and I haven't even been through it, but have seen friends go through it) ... but it is doable.

Just keep your head up (easier said than done, I know).

Sending you good and warm wishes.


That sounds horrible Ash. I'm sorry you're going through this. The one thing I would do is NOT make a decision right away. Give yourself at least a month to step back and put your mind on other things. Kind of like putting a paper aside and returning to it later. Right now you are likely to emotionally drained to make an important life-altering decision. After your break, explore ALL options and don't be afraid to choose the one that will make you happy even if others think it an odd choice.

If you feel up to it, it might be helpful to say a bit about the type of school you are at and reasons given for denial, how the process works etc. As far as I know there hasn't been much discussion about tenure on this blog. I get the impression at a number of "pure" teaching schools you just need to not screw up. But between pure teaching schools and R1 jobs there might be a lot of other possibilities. I honestly haven't the slightest idea what the tenure situation looks like at most schools.

Stuck, PhD

Ash, I'm so sorry to hear about your position. I'm among the many on this blog who have expressed frustrations that after performing well at short-term positions with no expectation of renewal, I haven't ended up with a permanent position. I can only imagine that it must be many, many times more emotionally difficult to have landed a (seemingly) permanent position, to have put 5 in years of work into doing it right and serving a single institution and department, and still finding oneself out of work.

I'm unable to offer any specific advice, but want to affirm what the first two commenters have said, and to add that you should try to be as objective as possible in deciding what to do next. By this, I mean asking yourself--and others who in some ways may know you better than you know yourself--what motivations in deciding next steps are genuinely yours, and what motivations may be suspect. To name just a couple pairs of questions to consider:

Would seeking another academic position be the result of the sunk cost fallacy? Or, on the contrary, would giving up on academia be hasty?

Do you wholeheartedly want another academic position but have a fear of rejection/failure? Or, on the contrary, are you genuinely disinterested in the academy but don't want to be viewed as a failure?

In any case, I wish you good luck in your decision and on your future!


Thank you all for your compassionate replies.

"If you feel up to it, it might be helpful to say a bit about the type of school you are at and reasons given for denial, how the process works etc."

I'm at an R1. Unfortunately, no reasons were given for the denial. I can talk about what I view as the limitations of my work, and these are things that I was looking forward to addressing, going forward--but I'm not sure which if any of these weaknesses was the cause of the denial, because I did meet the standards that had been communicated to me and to other assistant professors in recent years.

I assume that I was denied by the Dean and by the Committee because I was not universally supported by my colleagues within the Department. As for why that was--I wasn't there of course, but a couple of colleagues who did support me said that their perception was that everyone at the Department meeting agreed that I'd met the standards that had been shared with me (something like 6 articles, a couple at top venues, and a book with a top publisher), but that now that the market has gotten so competitive, some senior faculty members believe that our standards should be higher (though what these new higher standards should be has not been determined).

That's what's discouraging and what makes me wonder about the rationality of trying again: why work to meet the supposed tenure standards if at the last minute the fact that there is someone else out there who is better than you and eager to take your place, means that those standards can be set aside? Of course, I recognize that one possible response is that most places won't do this, and that a person's odd of getting unlucky in that way 2 or 3 times in a row are thus very low. But maybe more and more places would do this? I've heard from friends at a couple of other schools, too, that the surfeit of qualified candidates seems to be changing the culture and values of their departments. I'm not sure if anyone here has heard this.

"I would explore any possibility of appeal or legal action (is it possible that some procedural issue wasn't followed? could there be other grounds for appeal?)"

I'm not sure; the whole process is shrouded in such secrecy that the committee that handles appeals won't even provide information on how to appeal. In addition, I'm worried about looking, to my colleagues, like a "whiner", and that I would possibly face some kind of subtle retaliation going forward, even at a different department--even though most of my colleagues supported me until now. I'm worried that an appeal will come across as an act of antagonism towards the Department, even though that's obviously not how I would intend it. Unless appeals are routine, and everyone knows that?


You may have already thought about this already, but I'd recommend trying to figure out what the rules actually are - there might be a hard deadline for the submission of an appeal.

slac chair

Ash, you should definitely appeal if you feel up to it. Appealing a denial of tenure is very common. And sometimes successful, though this depends on the school. If you have a record of the standards that were communicated to you, i.e., it's not he said/she said, you appeal should not be considered frivolous. This bs makes me so mad. Standards are there to be followed. If some a-holes in your department think the standards should be higher, fine, but that should be determined by the department and communicated to the candidates, and not retroactively applied. (And this is why I think an appeal is warranted.)

And look, this is your career. Who gives a f**k if some people in your department think you are a whiner? You're not.

Pendaran Roberts

If there were standards written down that you met but they denied anyway, I’d think perhaps you would have legal recourse. Not an expert obviously. But worth thinking about whether you should get legal representation. I guess there is the issue of being able to afford it. Historically the law has always been only for the rich.


Wow. It is very not okay to have standards that are meet and then to deny someone tenure anyway. I assume, however, the contract has some wiggle room and some vague criteria included? Have other people recently received tenure in your department? One possibility for appeal is to compare yourself to others who did receive tenure and argue the difference between you and them is arbitrary.


Thanks so much everyone again. I hadn't expected so many people to recommend appealing. I have looked into it and I suppose I will appeal, if only to voice my disappointment with the inconsistencies and lack of transparency in the process. (I still think that it's very unlikely that it would work, but it might be therapeutic to say my piece.)

One final question: did other people *get* their tenure standards in writing? They were shared with me a couple of times during the fly-out--once by another assistant professor at the time, who left for another position before I started--and at a few meetings, two with the Chair, since then. But I never thought to get them in writing. I've asked the three other people who have been assistant professors since I joined here, and they all said they were given the same formula--X number of articles, Y number of articles in top journals--but none of us were given it in writing. And we never thought to get it because... There didn't seem to be any disagreement about what the standards were. And we wouldn't have anticipated this kind of situation.

I'd be kicking myself for this right now--except that I doubt they would have given the standards to me in writing even if I had asked. Wouldn't a department hesitate to do this, for the sake of plausible deniability down the road--such as if a candidate produced X number of articles, but were also an insufferable human being, and so on one wanted to tenure them? That is, wouldn't a department refuse to let its standards be a matter of written record, so that they could later claim that those standards were not met, if they wanted to get rid of someone for some other (in some cases legitimate) reason?

Or do many departments in fact put their standards in writing--have I just gotten too used to the one department in which I've worked?


I would love to hear people's thoughts about getting tenure in standards in writing. Is it weird to ask for this?

Marcus Arvan

Amanda & Ash: I think I’m going to start another thread on getting tenure standards in writing, as I think it’s an important issue to draw more attention to and discuss.



I can put you in touch with an excellent attorney who handles these kind of cases. If you’d like her contact information, please reach out to me at fischer@txstate.edu.




IMO -- you need to *run* not walk to the computer and e-mail Bob's attorney above or someone else and start appealing this ASAP.

Your faculty handbook/legislation and/or contract should have clear guidelines for tenure; it should not be some amorphous mess. Furthermore, it is absolutely unacceptable for your standards to be changed during the evaluation period. Good luck, but please do not delay and do not stand for this.

Pendaran Roberts

I'm not a lawyer obviously, but from reading your case Ash I'd be surprised if you don't have legal ground to stand on. I too recommend at least contacting an attorney and seeing what they say. Do you have friends there who will support what you say about the tenure requirements articulated to you? If you can build a case with proof that the standards articulated were x, you met them, but were denied anyway and without explanation, then I would think you would have a solid leg to stand on legally, which could force the university to reconsider its denial. Don't go quietly into the night. Fight for your job.

Craig Rhodes


You should should never sign your contract without knowing the standards for promotion and tenure. When this happens, you have taken job without knowing how you will be evaluated.


Thanks Craig - indeed now I do have them in writing.

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