Tenure and promotion letters for college faculty
February 26, 2014 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Academics, what is your institution's policy about tenure and promotion letters? Specifically, once the decision to award or deny tenure is made, does a candidate standardly get a letter detailing the committee's reasons? What is the letter like and who reviews it? Looking also for pointers to faculty handbooks where the letter process is described, and links to policies/recommendations from professional associations like AAUP or MLA on this.

An institution I'm associated with (a small college in the US) is considering changing its system. It has historically given a letter describing the committee's rationale, but now is considering a system where candidates would NOT be given a letter. Candidates would get the rationale described verbally by an administrator, but wouldn't get anything in writing. This goes for pre-tenure continuance reviews too.

In evaluating this change, it would be helpful to know how standard these letters are... does virtually every institution give them, or is it a variable thing? Do professional associations recommend that faculty should get letters for these decisions?

Would also be good to know what the process looks like (do the letters follow a rubric, who writes them, who reviews them, etc).

References to documents I can point to online are especially helpful.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I may or may not have been on the T&P committee of someone who was denied tenure. It may or may not have been the case that the fix was in from the outset. I may or may not have observed the university administration preempting their potential vulnerability to any conceivable lawsuit. This may or may not have been why the person was told that their scholarship was not commensurate with a person getting tenure at this institution, and nothing more.
posted by Crotalus at 3:03 PM on February 26, 2014

My large private university gives no written feedback whatsoever.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:25 PM on February 26, 2014

Not only do we get a letter justifying the decision, we also get to see the letters of the external evaluators.

I work at a university where the faculty's union is strong, which could explain the transparency of the process. Basically, the union is likely to contest any denial that isn't properly justified.
posted by Milau at 3:47 PM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I work for the University of California and I help manage tenure cases. Our tenure candidates get a very brief memo from the campus-level committee (made up of faculty representatives) that ultimately votes yay or nay. The memo lists the voting members present and the vote tally. It gives a brief justification for the decision -- a paragraph at most. The justification generally describes the adequacy (or lack of) of the publication record, or notes if there are any major problems with the faculty member's teaching, etc. Even if the vote is positive and tenure is awarded, the letter may voice some of the concerns of those who voted No.

Procedurally, that committee forwards their decision to the Chancellor. The Chancellor's office distributes the memo to the candidate and the Dean and Associate Dean of the School/College.

Our candidates are also allowed to review their extramural letters, but only redacted versions.

I can also tell you that if our process were changed so that an administrator gave the information verbally, in lieu of the faculty member receiving the memo from the committee, our faculty would go apeshit. They would see it as having too much potential to fall prey to departmental politics.

Memail me if you're interested in further info.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:04 PM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Good Practice in Tenure Evaluation is an official AAUP/American Council on Education document on this topic. I'm not sure that it address your question exactly, but it does emphasize that clarity and consistency with faculty members is of crucial importance throughout the process. Switching from written to verbal communication would, I think, undermine the clarity and transparency of the process that the AAUP itself recommends.
posted by augustimagination at 4:22 PM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Our process includes a letter from the chair to the college-level committee that the candidate can see, that describes the tenure vote, the discussion that led to it, and the chair's perspective.

Then after the college level committee votes, a deanlet writes a similar letter to the university level committee, and the candidate gets to see that too.

Then that committee writes a very brief letter to the president recommending tenure or not, and the candidate gets that. This is the last stage where people might reasonably get dinged.

Then the president writes the candidate a very brief letter, notionally recommending an action to the chancellor of the entire SUNY system.

Then the chancellor writes the last letter like almost 18 months after the whole thing started.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:31 PM on February 26, 2014

I work at a SLAC in the U.S.

For the intermediate T+P process (say, the 3rd or 4th year), each tenured member of the department drafts a letter that the chair then puts together into a "master" letter that goes to the Dean and faculty personnel committee. These bodies review all documents and then the Dean writes up a letter with assessment of all the candidate's materials and suggestions (some thinly veiled, some direct) for what needs to happen before the tenure year.

During the T+P process (say, 6th or 7th year), the process stays the same (and note that the candidate can read the external reviewers' letters as well as all student letters) except that there is no written letter at the end of this process, whether or not the candidate has been tenured. I remember feeling quite dissatisfied with the "chat."

Not surprisingly, we're struggling now to figure out what post-tenure reviews can and should look like, and how directive or diagnostic to be.
posted by correcaminos at 4:40 PM on February 26, 2014

During the T&P process at my public institution, we see copies of the committee's, chair's, and dean's letters. As far as I can remember, however, we don't get anything from the president (who makes the call) other than yay or nay. Faculty going up for full do not see letters from the external evaluators.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:01 PM on February 26, 2014

At my small public university, the process is controlled by faculty union contract, but each department has somewhat different procedures within that. However, they all include written documentation every step of the way. First, the deptal tenure review committee provides annual written evaluation reports/letters given to the candidate each year and placed in her/his department file.

In the tenure year, the candidate receives a written record of the tenure committee's recommendation (for, against, one more probationary year), the full department faculty vote yea/nay number, and then the department head gathers up the whole schmeer, adds her/his written recommendation, and sends it up to the dean, who sends it up to the provost. If the candidate is denied tenure, (s)he can appeal it to the president, who has to present her/his final decision in writing.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:59 PM on February 26, 2014

Oh, and the tenure committee and department recommendation documents do include reasons.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:03 PM on February 26, 2014

Major R1 university. It depends which committee you mean. But in either case (critical review subcommittee, departmental tenured faculty committee, university-wide T&P) the proceedings are considered confidential. The candidate never receives a written description of the reasoning. They do get a conversation with their chair where the outcome is discussed, but the chair doesn't know everything that went down in the T&P committee either. Legal ass covering perhaps, but it's also just a traditionally secretive process, ripe for abuse in some ways as a result, except it's an economy where any substantial abuse would lead to cycles of retribution.
posted by spitbull at 6:03 PM on February 26, 2014

At my private U, the tenured folk view the records of us pre-tenure, write responses, and the chair summarizes those in a letter that I read and can respond to. The letter specifically addresses progress in those three areas that we ask know and love ...repeat with me, research, teaching and service.This year is re-appointment for me so that letter goes on up to Dean and Provost

posted by Dashy at 10:10 PM on February 27, 2014

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