18 May 2024

You need how many letters to prove you should get tenure?!

Many academics badly underestimate how much diversity there is in how universities do business. This includes me. Because I was caught flat-footed by a new paper that examines a common part of the tenure process for academics.

When someone is going up for tenure and promotion, it’s common to ask people from outside the university to write a letter describing how this person fits into the research community. These external letters can be a good safety valve to prevent a department from glossing over problems with one of their faculty.

When I was at UTRGV, the “external letter” requirement was just getting implemented. One of the key factors was how many letters to ask for. Speaking at a panel this week in DC, someone mentioned the practice, and talked about the difficulty in getting “three letters.”

Three letters turns out to be on the low end of the task. The most common minimum number of letters was five.

Some universities require a minimum – I say again, a minimum – of ten external letters.

All I can think of is, “How insecure do you have to be in your decision to hire someone that you need external validation from ten other people?”


Hannon L, Bergey M. Policy variation in the external evaluation of research for tenure at U.S. universities. Research Evaluation: rvae018. https://doi.org/10.1093/reseval/rvae018

No comments: