05 February 2010
Tenure guidelines usually leave something out
As it happened, I had been attending a meeting earlier that day in place of our department chair. I had an opportunity to review the tenure requirements of a lot of different departments, which you normally don’t have a chance to do. A few things stood out.
Many of the departments had long, very legalistic tenure requirements, often containing fairly trivial things. For example, “You have to give your a syllabus to classes, preferably on the first day” was the sort of thing that some had. (Given that a syllabus is a CYA document, it does make sense that it would be referred to in another CYA document.)
I told the faculty that it’s a mistake to think of those tenure requirements as a checklist. Tenure requirements are almost always written for the benefit of the tenured faculty, not the tenure-track faculty those requirements are ostensibly there for. Tenure requirement are often written in such a way as to give the tenured faculty the balance of power in making tenure decisions.
While the written guidelines cover minimum expectations for teaching, research, and service, there’s typically a big unwritten set of conditions: collegiality. If the tenured faculty don’t like you, the tenure guidelines are usually slippery enough, referring to intangibles (e.g., “publication quality”) that it will be hard to get past the gates.