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01/27/2020

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Paul

Okay I'll get the ball rolling:

Large, private R2 with a philosophy PhD. We have to submit a FULL tenure notebook and have a full pre-tenure review EVERY YEAR starting in January of year one (the final year six review is in November). Years 4 and 6 the dean is in the meeting, all other years its just your departmental tenure committee.

The notebook includes:
1. Tenure letter describing your teaching, research, service, and community involvement (university life and beyond). What needs to be included is clearly specified, the length is not.
2. Annotated Tenure Resume. You must list all your pubs, presentations, classes taught, grants, etc., with a description of the contribution like citations, journal ranking, number of students in the class, etc.
3. You must include all course evals and syllabi.
4. In the first five years you must include a teaching assessment where you discuss how your classes went, changes that you made, changes that you plan to make, etc. (This is not included in the final year but is just addressed in the letter).
5. You must include a 5 year research plan (can be a narrative or a spreadsheet, its not clear what they want).
6. You include all publications, and in the first five years can include accepted and under review (in the final year they only care about what is actually out)
7. FINAL year includes 3-5 external letters that you never see. Of course they are supposed to be top scholars in your area.

Your final tenure review is in November, and then you do not hear back until late Feb or early March (often the day before spring break).

The process is a bit maddening to be honest, but the reason for the yearly review is so that you have a very clear idea where you stand. Overall, chances are that if you department is all behind you then you will be fine. They attempt to make the process as humane and transparent as possible, and I think they mostly succeed. I really wish we only had to turn in a tenure resume most years and maybe the full notebook years 3 and 6, because I ended up doing a significant amount of work on that thing every year, like I could publish an article or work on my notebook kind of work...

Philosadjacent

The process thing is hard for people without tenure to understand and encapsulate, so I understand why this is less well-commented than the thread about standards. For example, I didn’t realize the significance of the department vote until my case actually went through; it’s a different set of documents and a different kind of process. Everything before that had been geared to doing what’s necessary for the university-level process.

It also may be something that allows others to identify institutions.

I described mine in the other thread, so I’ll reiterate here. Basics: big state R1. Although my PhD is in philosophy, I am not in a philosophy department. However, I am in the same part of the university and I know that the philosophy department’s process is similar to my department’s.

The process is as follows: you begin your career on a temporary, renewable contract for three years. You go through a big third-year review, that looks like a mini-tenure process. You compile research, teaching, and service materials, write up an account of your work in each (each of which describes what you’ve done, what you’re currently doing, and where it’s going in the next few years, and how it all hangs together). As long as you are a possible candidate for tenure at that point and not negligent, you will get a second contract. I’ve never heard of someone being denied a renewal, but if someone is really not on track they are informed of that and encouraged to start looking for other positions. [Note: problems are actually addressed from the get-go. If someone is having difficulties, lots of resources are devoted to helping. The third year review is a way of formalizing discussions about those issues.]

Then there is a department (i.e., a committee of all tenured faculty in the department) decision late in year 5 about whether the department will pursue tenure. It’s known well ahead of time what the outcome will be, but it’s formal. That vote begins preparation of similar documents (research, teaching, and service dossiers and statements), and a solicitation of outside letters (about 6) from senior scholars at “peer” institutions or scholars that could be (e.g., someone clearly a field leader, even if they aren’t at what we’d normally consider a peer R1). That happens early in year 6.

The department designates people to write up research, teaching, and service evaluations (independently of the letters). Those are submitted to the department. The department reviews the candidate’s materials, the department evaluations, and the outside letters. It then votes whether to recommend for tenure. That corpus of stuff and the department vote gets distilled into a chair’s letter, and the whole package is sent up to a university-level committee (there are different committees for different areas: social sciences, humanities, arts, etc.). They approve, disapprove, or send back for more information.

That recommendation is advanced to the president/visitors for a pro-forma approval. Disapprovals can be appealed, and I know of at least one case of disapproval at university committee that was reversed by provost. Never the other way.

If you are disapproved/denied, you get one more year of work.

Amanda

Marcus you said that tenure shouldn't be a popularity contest. Well, agreed. But what makes you think the *internal* letter writing process that you have will be immune to popularity contests? I suppose there is supposed to be evidence for the sort of claims internal people make, but I would hope external people would be expected to provide evidence, also. I do agree that on the whole, external letters are more likely to be a popularity contest, because well, at research institutions that often is exactly what they are, i.e, they are about reputation. However, if we are to imagine a school with different values, I don't know why it has to be that. It seems like an external person might be more likely to be dispassionate and objective in their judgements. I definitely know cases of people feeling guilty about the possibility of denying a colleague tenure, or ones who "went up to bat" for their buddy and colleague even though they doubted their objective qualifications.

Amanda

PS - I could imagine a socially awkward or just not likable person who was sort of a same "iffy" tenure case as another, popular, colleague and that, because of their internal friends, the latter and not the former would get tenure. Popularity plays a big role in philosophy. Not an exclusionary role or one that can't be overcome, but it seems a not insignificant factor at most institutions and within the profession generally.

Paul

Philosadjacent reminded me of a couple things:

1. You get one-year renewable contracts years 1-6; renewal each year is based on the pre-tenure review and its the Dean's decision.
2. If denied tenure, you can appeal. You first ask the provost for the specific reasons you were denied (these are not initially revealed), then you write an appeal letter directly to the president. S/he alone makes the final decision on the appeal.
3. If denied tenure and appeal, you get a final one-year terminal contract to look for a job.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Amanda: that's a great question. Here, I think, is the difference--at least at institutions like mine.

As the link to my university's criteria for advancement in the above post indicate, departmental and college T&P committees have to base their recommendations (for or against tenure) on those criteria. So, if a tenure candidate lays out clearly in their tenure file how they have met all of those criteria, the letters from the department and college committees is expected to lay out in detail the very things the person has accomplished and explain why or why they have not met that criteria. No process is perfect, but my own experience (having served on both my department and college T&P committees) is that this leaves comparatively little room for the committee's decision to be a popularity contest. Suppose a candidate is unpopular with their colleagues but they nevertheless lay out in detail how they meet all of the handbook criteria. To recommend denying this person tenure, the committee would have to do one of two things in their letter: either (A) dramatically misrepresent the person's accomplishments, or (B) represent them correctly and argue that they nevertheless don't meet the relevant criteria. Either way, the letter would *look* bad right on its face to any Dean, Provost, or Hearing Committee. The same goes for a candidate who clearly doesn't meet the handbook criteria. If a committee recommended them for tenure despite the candidate not making anything remotely like a plausible case, the committee would have to write things like, "This person hasn't published anything, and they haven't done X, Y, and Z as a teacher--as delineated in our handbook standards for advancement--and yet we vote anyway that they should be tenured." This also wouldn't fly, I think, with any Dean, Provost, President, and so on.

Now, are there *possible* cases (say, borderline cases) where a person's internal popularity or lack thereof among their colleagues might sway a committee one direction or the other? I imagine so. But again, no process is perfect, and my sense is that (at my university, at least) the kinds of borderline cases where this could occur would be the vast exception to the rule.

This all seems to me *very* different than soliciting outside letters--where, or so I understand, what is often asked for is whether the candidate is "a leader in their field" or some such. The problem that I have with this is that I think it is so open prestige-bias, networking, and other personal/sociological factors. A person can be a *great* philosopher and yet not be recognized as such by eminent people in their field for many reasons: they work on unpopular stuff, arguing against the very standard-bearers in the field who may be judging their tenure case; they may be terrible at networking or getting to know people; or they might have "pissed the wrong person off"; and so on. Conversely, I think it's always possible that someone might *not* be a great scholar but nevertheless be venerated as one in outside letters because they came from the right program, or work on fashionable things, and so on and so forth.

It would, I think, be far better for these reasons not to have subjective evaluators (outside letter writers) evaluating a file, but instead more objective measures (e.g. two articles in top-10 journals per year, some number of citations, etc.) to decide research quality and impact--as I think these more objective measures are far, far less liable to bias (both for and against candidates). Also, how in the world is "becoming a leader in your field" (if it is indeed a standard tippy-top programs use in tenure decisions) not an absurd standard? Really, one is supposed to become a leader in one's field in *five* years? If I recall, it took Kant a little bit longer than that and he turned out okay. Becoming a leader in a field, it seems to me, only makes any sense as a long-term standard. In the short-term, a person can do absolutely stellar work and not be widely recognized simply because not enough time has passed and their name and work haven't gotten out there enough...even if they very well will in time.

Overseas TT

There's another reason it's silly to expect one to become "a leader in one's field". How many people can be leaders in a field at the same time? Maybe 5? 10? Perhaps 20? Either way, there are way more people than that in research institutions on the tenure track in a given field at any given time. So if all of those institutions held themselves to those standards, then the overwhelming majority of those people shouldn't get tenure. Not just at places like Harvard or Princeton (where tenure denial is the rule, I hear), but also at garden-variety research institutions where the expectation is that if you do consistent good work, you should be alright.

Amanda

Thanks Marcus. What the success of your method seems to hang on is having very clear standards for tenure. Since I am used to incredibly vague standards (both at my former teaching school and at my current research school) I guess I didn't think of that. And yes, if you just ask an outside letter writers about someone's reputation, that very well may not correlate with actual excellence in philosophy. I guess what I was thinking is that external persons might look at the CV and some other materials of a tenure candidate (teaching reviews, syllabi, writing samples, etc.) and express their judgement about qualifications, after first being informed of the university's values. But I guess if very clear tenure standards are already in place this might be superfluous

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