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Second hand

No first-hand experience, but at my last job, before my time, someone was denied tenure, but not at the department level (can't remember if it was college tenure committee or dean). The department recommended tenure, I believe because they liked him, but he only had one publication, so it didn't get through.

Someone was also bizarrely denied tenure because the dean was in a discipline where publication counts are much higher, and he was apparently affronted that the woman went up early with "only" 6 publications. I don't think she appealed, because I think she got another better job in the same year, but I assume she would have done well on appeal.


I know of many cases of tenure denials. In some cases, people who have been denied tenure were lucky that they were able to secure a position (sometimes tenure-track sometimes a tenured one) at another institution. But it seems to me that there is a number of people who tried to keep in the field for a while (3-5 years) but ended up unable to secure a permanent position - partially, I take it, due to the increasing complexity of life (very often at that point with families), increasing teaching loads and a need to move around from one temporary job to another. I assume that everyone deals with these things in their own way. One sad aspect of this are the frequent denials of tenure at the very top departments to often highly deserving people (often because their institutions consider themselves to be so exclusive that most people, even if they do everything imaginable, simply are not the superstars - whatever that means - they are looking for). If those people were at most other institutions, they would probably pass with flying colors. But as is, they are left to rely on luck to secure another position or forced to leave academia. I wonder how much talent has been wasted in this way.


I can only be so sympathetic for someone who is denied tenure at a very highly ranked school. After all, they can investigate this before hand. Years ago, I knew someone (not a philosopher) at a department at Harvard who was told that about 20% of the people get tenure. Knowing that she acting sensibly and moved before she was up for tenure. She is now at a fine job, as secure as can be. And one cannot assume that the person denied tenure at a top place would be as productive as they were if they were at a lesser place. As you move down the ladder your workload changes dramatically.


I haven't come up yet, but I can speak to a recent case in a department I know.

As to 1, the candidate told me that what they were told was that the letters weren't strong enough. The candidate's work straddles two disciplines, and the candidate was informally told by one of the senior faculty members that letter writers from neither discipline felt the candidate was doing exactly their kind of thing, which made for somewhat lukewarm support. Not in all the letters, but in enough, I guess.

As to 2, the candidate had department support, and the case was voted down at the university level (so, one level up from department).

As to 3, I can't really speak to how they grappled with it personally, but professionally, they're doing fine. They're in another TT job at another research institution.

assist prof

At my large, private R2, you receive a very brief letter saying you were either granted or denied tenure. If denied, the reasons are very brief. You have a very short time (I think a few days) to ask the provost for specific reasons why you were denied tenure (they must respond and have a few days to reply), and then you have 2 weeks to appeal directly to the president in written from. The president alone makes the final decision on the appeal.

Denials don't come from the department level, because if they did the person would be fired in a previous year (since there are pre-tenure reviews every year). But, you can get a lukewarm or mixed vote from your department which would hurt you. At that point the University Tenure Committee makes the ultimate decision, with input from the departmental committee, the chair, and the dean. Then the provost and president then sign off. They can also deny tenure, as happened years ago when a president went rogue and axed a large percentage of the folks who went up that year (that hasn't happened since).

One instance in my department the person left academia and seems very happy and successful, in another instance they appealed and won. Another left and got another TT job at a smaller school and is happy and productive, another left academia and I don't know what happened to them after that...

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