The Value of Tenure
Tenure is an important core value at the center of teaching the liberal arts. It is what allows free inquiry both in the classroom and in the laboratory, field, library and studio. It serves our society by providing a space, the academy, where all citizens know that new knowledge is created with establishing the truth, as best we can construe it, as its only goal. When no private entity has a stake in the outcome of research and no researcher works under the fear of reprisal for his or her results, we can rely on honest outcomes without bias, in science, social science, the humanities and the arts.
The Tenure Process
At the May meeting of Franklin & Marshall's Board of Trustees, one of the most important collaborative actions in the system of shared governance between Trustees and faculty takes place. It is the Board approval of the recommendations from the Provost and the President of faculty for tenure and promotion. This request marks the culmination of a process that begins at hiring with many checkpoints along the way.
The tenure review is the final event of a faculty member's probationary period, and it is prefaced by a system of annual review and reappointment procedures. Each year, the department chair must make a formal recommendation to reappoint all tenure-track, junior faculty members in the department. In addition, we have an annual review procedure that is specifically aimed at providing feedback on progress toward tenure. The faculty member, department chair, Associate Dean, and the Provost all review the record, and minutes of the review meeting document the appraisal and advice that the candidate receives.
In the fall of the third year, there is a major reappointment review undertaken by the tenured members of the department and the Professional Standards Committee. This so-called Interim Review involves analysis of the record in teaching, scholarship and service. The purpose of the review is to evaluate the probationary faculty member's progress toward fulfilling the criteria for tenure, and it leads either to reappointment or termination. For faculty who are reappointed, the Interim Review provides constructive feedback and advice on progress toward tenure.
Like all standards in the world of academics, the tenure process itself is a system of peer review. Just as boards of established academics review colleagues' proposals for grants and journal articles and books, the Professional Standards Committee reviews the teaching, scholarship, advising, and departmental and institutional contributions of junior colleagues to determine whether they have met the standards of excellence for tenure set out in the Faculty Handbook. The burden of making the case for tenure falls to the probationary faculty member and those tenured colleagues who support him or her. Because the awarding of tenure is a personnel action, the details of any one case are confidential. However, the process is openly laid out in the Faculty Handbook. At Franklin & Marshall, the faculty is justly proud of the integrity and thoroughness of our process.
Typically, faculty members are considered for tenure in the sixth year they have been teaching at the College. (This number varies depending on prior experience, the rank at the time of appointment, and whether or not the faculty member has had a parental leave in the probationary period.) In the spring of the year before the tenure consideration, a memo goes out to faculty scheduled for the tenure review and their department chairs. This memo asks the department and the individual who is coming up for review to provide a list of scholars in the academic field of the tenure candidate who will serve as outside evaluators of the candidate's scholarly record. The list includes 10 names, five of which come from the candidate and five from the department. The list includes an abbreviated curriculum vitae for the reviewer and information on any prior contact the candidate or the department may have had with the reviewer. As a general practice, potential reviewers who may have had a close working relationship with a candidate, such as a dissertation adviser or co-author, are not selected. The Provost then reviews the list and contacts each reviewer to ask whether he or she is willing to undertake a review of the scholarly dossier of the tenure candidate. If the reviewer agrees, the Provost ‘s office sends the reviewer all of the books and journal articles published to date as well as any manuscripts that have been submitted for consideration by presses or journals. Most academics consider it to be an important professional obligation to participate in the tenure review process; they are paid a modest honorarium of $100 when they have completed the review. A useful review discusses each piece of work, locates it in disciplinary discourse, provides information on the status of the venues of publication, and of course gives a blunt appraisal of the quality of the work and the promise the record shows for future productivity. The identity of the author of specific outside reviews is never revealed to the tenure candidate, although he or she can read the substance of the reports after the tenure process is over. Senior colleagues at Franklin & Marshall may read these reviews after they have submitted their own recommendation on the case.
By October of the tenure year, the candidate must submit the tenure dossier. This includes a curriculum vitae, a record of courses taught and an account of departmental, institutional and professional contributions. Syllabi and course assignments are presented. In addition, each candidate submits a statement describing his or her teaching philosophy as well as an analysis of the teaching record. A statement on research includes the plan of research thus far, what has been achieved and copies of all grant proposals (funded and unfunded), publications, letters of acceptance, and readers' reports on work accepted but unpublished. The candidate must supply a vision of future goals for his or her research program.
Each tenured member of the candidate's department must write a detailed analysis of the case and must ultimately choose to recommend or not to recommend the awarding of tenure.
In January, just as the term begins for the second semester, the PS Committee begins its work on the tenure cases. For each case, members read the material submitted by the candidate, by his or her senior colleagues, and by the outside reviewers. The committee members read all of the Student Perceptions of Teaching (SPOT) evaluations for the pre-tenure years, analyzing both numerical ratings and written commentary. Complementing this information are accounts of class visits by colleagues and an analysis of syllabi, course assignments and exams. In many cases, departmental majors who have graduated write assessments, and senior exit interviews, conducted by the chair with graduating seniors, are valuable sources of feedback.
The letters written by external reviewers are very helpful to the PS Committee when assessing the scholarly record. It is important for the candidate to demonstrate that he or she has a record of independent scholarship, accepted in peer-reviewed venues, that goes beyond material covered in the doctoral dissertation. Candidates must make a convincing case for a scholarly program that will extend well into the future, because tenure is a lifetime contract.
Information on advising comes from colleagues' observations, comments from students and senior exit interviews. Committee chairs are solicited for their comments on the quality of the faculty member's contributions to faculty committees, departmental needs and general service.
The Committee discusses each aspect of a case in detail. Collectively, many hours of preparation go into the deliberations on each case. In addition, when discussion of all cases is complete, the PS Committee reviews all the candidates' cases collectively to ensure that standards have been applied consistently and fairly.
The Provost takes the recommendations of the Committee to the President, who has been following the process by reading the minutes of the PS Committee as they are approved each week. Once the President has indicated he or she accepts the recommendations, they come to the Board of Trustees for approval.
When a member of the faculty is tenured, he or she has surpassed a second professional hurdle, the first being the attainment of the Ph.D. or other terminal degree, to prove competence and expertise. At Franklin & Marshall, our procedures ensure that our tenured faculty meet institutional standards. The tremendous strength of our academic program is the proudest outcome of this careful application of the fundamental principles of peer review, experts credentialing experts, to continue our tradition of outstanding teaching and research.
The foregoing document is adapted from a report by the Provost to the Board of Trustees that provided an overview of the College's faculty review processes. The procedures for review of probationary appointments and tenure are fully set forth in, and governed by, the Faculty Handbook.