The tenure review process may be one of the most mysterious performance review processes in any industry. In most cases, there are vague guidelines and unclear expectations. As I went through the tenure process, I felt like I had done enough, but you never really know. In large measure, the lack of clarity stems from a fear of establishing legally binding precedent as well as an attitude of “I did it this way, you can too” on the part of senior faculty. In today’s post, I want to pull the curtain back and answer the basic question: How do tenure committees evaluate candidates?
To be sure, each department, school, and institution vary somewhat on what they’re looking for and how they evaluate pre-tenure candidates.
While the relative weight of each of the 8 aspects I identify vary, I want to suggest that these are the primary criteria considered by colleges and universities across the country— no matter their size, research mission, or prestige.
One note I should quickly make is that the tenure process at most community colleges varies substantially from what I outline below.
8 Criteria Tenure Committees Use to Evaluate Candidates
Both the quality and quantity of a candidate’s research publications play a vital role in the committee’s review. Expect that committees and reviewers will read your publications (at least your major ones). Also be prepared to describe the journals and academic presses that you have published with during your probationary period.
No matter how important research is at your institution for gaining tenure (and at many research universities it is the major consideration), you will be asked to submit materials attesting to your teaching quality and they will be part of the evaluated criteria. Although we all know the pros and cons, student teaching evaluations for your courses will be required. Additionally, you may submit sample syllabi, a teaching philosophy, letters from students, and other evidence related to your teaching.
3. External reviews
Institutions have differing rules regarding their selection, but tenured faculty from peer or aspirational colleges will be asked to review your materials. These reviews typically focus on research as it is harder for an external person to evaluate teaching or service from a distance. Reviewers will be asked if someone with your record would get tenure at their institution. The answer to this is critical for your success as a tenure candidate. Additionally, the review letters play a substantial role in helping colleagues evaluate your research. Often, I may not know the content or methodology of a tenure candidate that I am reviewing. I rely on the evaluations from external reviews to validate the rigor of a candidate’s work.
4. Personal statement
You will be asked to draft a statement regarding your teaching, research, and service activities. This statement helps contextualize your work for both internal and external reviewers. Take your time and seek feedback on the statement as it sets the stage for your dossier.
Although your service expectations are lower as a pre-tenure faculty member, tenure committees still want to see that you engage in institutional and professional service. The latter is particularly important including serving on committees for your professional associations and reviewing for conferences and journals. Professional service not only helps your field, but assists with establishing your reputation and expertise.
Of all of the criteria in this list, grants may be the one that varies the most between disciplines and institutions. Some places have no expectation for grants while at others it is a mandatory requirement. Either way, grant activity is something tenure committees will definitely consider.
One of the expectations for faculty is that you mentor students. This may include undergraduates or doctoral students depending on your department. Like service, the expectations for mentoring are much lower during the pre-tenure years, but committees like to see that you are helping to support students.
While few people want to acknowledge it, I believe every tenure committee member considers collegiality at some point during the review process. Is the candidate a good colleague? I’ve heard it expressed different ways over the years. Does the person act like they want to be in the club? Can you imagine working with the person for the next 20 or 30 years? However expressed, collegiality is a component committees consider. This isn’t to suggest that committees vote in favor or against a candidate based on if they like the person or if the person is a pain in the neck. Yet, a general sense of collegiality definitely pervades discussions around a particular tenure case.
Strange and vital
Tenure is a strange and vital part of higher education. Committees tasked with evaluating tenure candidates take the responsibility seriously. While the criteria does vary substantially across higher education, I believe these 8 criteria will form the basis for the evaluation of candidates at virtually any college or university in the country. I hope this helps answer the question of how do tenure committees evaluate candidates.