The Tenure and Promotion Process

In the recent report by the Committee for the Review of Undergraduate Tenure and Promotion, 2011-12 (chaired by Professor Lesley Wheeler), there was a recommendation that we make a "vigorous administrative effort to improve communication about tenure and promotion." In the paragraphs below I have provided a brief description of the work on tenure and promotion done by the President's Advisory Committee in 2011-12 or in a typical year. Some of the information provided repeats what is published in the Faculty Handbook, but some of the details reflect routine practice or custom in the operations of this committee that may not be widely known.

In the fall term, long before any tenure and promotion files come forward, the members of President's Advisory meet to review the Handbook language on faculty evaluation and undergraduate tenure and promotion. This is done as orientation for new members of the committee and to ensure that everyone on the committee, both new and long-serving members, have an opportunity to discuss the procedures they will be following in the winter and spring.

In January and February, after department level committees complete their work, the files prepared by candidates for tenure and/or promotion, together with the confidential material collected by the chair of the department level committee (usually the department head) are forwarded to the appropriate dean.

The deans check the files for completeness and send them to the provost. If either a dean or the provost finds that something is missing from a file, he or she contacts the department involved and tries to resolve the discrepancy. This is done without prejudice or disadvantage to the candidate; it is merely an effort to make sure that all required materials are present in each file and organized in a way that will facilitate the subsequent review process.

Complete tenure and promotion files are then locked in a campus room. The members of the Advisory Committee have access to the locked location for about a month near the end of winter term. In 2011-12 there were twenty-two files for tenure and promotion, an unusually large number. The members of the Advisory Committee do not divide this work among themselves. Every member of the committee-elected faculty or administrator-examines every file on which he or she will later deliberate. These files can contain hundreds of pages of raw course evaluations, book length manuscripts, voluminous conference presentations, and many other items. Not every page of every file is read by every committee member, but every member samples widely and comprehensively, reads carefully, and tries to master the material presented by each file. The members of the committee take their responsibilities seriously and put in long hours preparing for the forthcoming deliberations.

All the documents included in a file are important, not just those that are most current. Many committee members look for evidence about how a candidate's career has progressed over time by reading all the FARs, annual review letters, Lenfest grant reports, selected course evaluations, classroom visit letters and other documents that (when read in sequence) map the path of development for the particular candidate under review. Research results-published articles, books, conference papers, grant proposals, reports and reviews about artistic presentations and performances-are carefully examined, but there is no predetermined formula for number or kind of research product by which candidates will be measured.

In April (usually during winter term exam week) the members of the Advisory Committee meet with the president of the university to discuss the tenure and promotion files. All the files are discussed. No prior distinctions are made between files that require more or less discussion and though the blocks of time expended for file deliberations are not perfectly equal, every file receives sustained and substantive attention.

A complicated schedule for file discussions is prepared in advance of the April meetings because selected members of the Advisory Committee are obligated to recuse themselves if they participated at department level deliberations or if there is a conflict of interest in their participation in a particular advisory action.

Discussions of individual files, with the appropriate members of Advisory in the room, begin with the dean of the candidate's college summarizing the file's contents. At this point, the dean is not an advocate for or against any particular recommendation. The dean tries to provide an accurate and neutral summary of the information in the file, often highlighting some of the matters that the committee may wish to discuss at greater length. Following the dean's introduction the floor is open for comments from any or all committee members who wish to speak.

The discussions can be wide ranging, but there are some agreed upon parameters for the evaluation of files. These include:

  • a commitment to treat each file as an individual case without reference or comparison to others under review this year or in previous years
  • an agreement that candidates for tenure who have elected not to seek outside letters reviewing their scholarship cannot be judged negatively for that decision
  • an admonition against the introduction of evidence not contained in the submitted file
  • a deference to the faculty-approved language in the Handbook
  • a presumptive respect for the departmental evaluation of a file.

The president listens to the committee member comments, and may from time to time pose a question or make an observation about an issue under discussion. In general, the president tries to reserve judgment until all the deliberations are complete. In 2011-12, because there were 22 files, the discussions with the president in attendance took two full days.

During the final stage of the Advisory Committee's work on tenure and promotion, the president of the university is not present. Members of the committee are asked to identify which files, in their judgment, require additional discussion. The floor is reopened to deliberations, this time with no introduction by a dean, and no attempt to maintain equal time for each file discussed. When all the files identified for further discussion have been considered, the committee votes. Members of the committee who recused themselves from the initial file discussions (because they served on a departmental committee, or for any other reason) are not present for the second round of deliberations or for any votes on the candidate connected to their recusal. Only full professors deliberate and vote on candidates for promotion to that rank. Voting is done by secret ballot. The chair of the committee (the provost) votes only in cases of a tie. The final vote is announced to the committee by the provost.

By long established custom, the deans call each candidate after all Advisory deliberation and voting is over to tell them whether a positive or negative recommendation will be going to the president. The deans report the recommendation, not the number of votes cast.

After the Advisory Committee has completed its work, the deans are given an opportunity to add a final letter to each file from their college. That letter may contain the dean's personal reflections on the file and the recently completed deliberations. The complete files are then given to the president along with the Advisory Committee recommendation and the voting result. The president makes decisions on promotions and recommendations to the Board of Trustees on tenure.

Robert A. Strong
Interim Provost