After a five year break as a director of a research operation, I am  temporarily stepping  back into an academic administrative role.  It seems like a good time to revisit what I posted here and reflect on what I have learned in the interim that might be of some help to others.


This blog is designed to be a source of information and advice regarding the promotion and tenure process in research universities.  The intended audiences include:

  • Pre-tenure faculty
  • Mid-career Associate Professors
  • Senior faculty mentors

The content draws heavily from public domain resources with appropriate credit noted for original authorship.

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Long Overdue – on Joint Appointments

In the course of my transition out of the Associate Dean role and taking my current research position, I seriously lost my momentum here.

After this extended break from writing, I have been considering the best place to start a long overdue entry.  After thinking it over, I decided to write about a challenge that some faculty face in promotion and tenure; how to effectively navigate the workload that is associated with joint appointments.  Much of the action taken to address this particular challenge has been, in large part, ineffective.  We are indeed, long overdue in implementing proactive policies to address inequities in the workloads of faculty on joint appointments. 

Over the seven years that I served as a department chair, I worked with faculty who held joint appointments in three different units.  While Sociology was the tenure home for each faculty member, holding a 50-60% apportionment, each of the affiliated interdisciplinary programs had undergraduate and/or graduate degrees and minors that brought with them needs for faculty engagement and service on core committees.  My institution has, for many years, followed best practice guidelines for the creation of memorandum of understanding to insure that the heads of the two units work to insure fair and equitable treatment in terms of research, teaching, and service expectations.  But, in practice, it was very difficult achieve a balance in a way that did not impact on the joint appointed faculty member.  The joint appointment programs tend to be smaller, and thus require that participating faculty have more frequent engagement in core committee work.  To keep the faculty member from being overloaded, the easy response was to give lighter assignments in the tenure home department. But, if that is done consistently over time, it marginalizes the faculty member from some of the most important committee assignments (e.g., executive committee, graduate committee) and, as such, limits leadership engagement.  On top of the committee work, joint appointed faculty are engaged in serving on hiring committees for both units, and if tenured, on pre-tenure reappointment and promotion evaluations for faculty in both units.  Regardless of how committee work is handled, in this type of system, an extra workload is inherent in joint appointments.

In the 2014-2015 academic year, I had the unique opportunity to work with two innovative leaders, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Joseph Francisco, and Director of the Institute for Ethnic Studies, Joy Castro, to facilitate a shift in college policy toward joint appointments.  We conducted a formal analysis of service work loads that clearly demonstrated how faculty on joint appointments carried a disproportionate service load.  As anticipated, this was problematic for pre-tenure faculty, but the workload issues were particularly pronounced for mid-career faculty.  Based on this assessment, the Dean held meetings with the chairs and directors of all engaged departments and units, who, in turn, presented the assessment and possible recommendations to the faculty. 

An attempt to begin to address this, implemented starting in the 2016-2017 academic year, was to make a change in the teaching apportionment of joint appointed faculty in the Institute for Ethnic Studies. The normal three year teaching load was reduced from 12 to 10 courses (base apportionment was 2 courses per semester), with an associated adjustment on service apportionment.  Importantly, the standard research apportionment was not altered.  Traditionally, with equivalent teaching loads, joint appointed faculty’s additional service workload has come at the expense of time for research, while on paper the research apportionment was equivalent to faculty on standard tenure home only appointments. Some background and perspective on the plan and faculty responses was covered in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The adjustment the college made was an important first step, but not a full solution.  As noted in the Chronicle article, many interdisciplinary programs have been designed to provide an intellectual community for faculty engaged in scholarship that may not be in in the mainstream of their majority-white tenure home departments. But, faculty of color who find themselves in these type of joint appointments are likely to also face another form of labor that is more challenging to address than the formal service overloads that the current reapportionment addressed. The invisible labor of minority faculty in majority institutions, particularly in support of students of color, is broadly acknowledged. But, it is “invisible” in the sense that there is no clear recognition in the criteria that are used to assess and reward faculty work (What is faculty diversity work to a university).

Universities face challenges in how to address the next step. Real change is unlikely to happen until evaluation rubrics, formal or not, incorporate some form of acknowledgement and assessment – at a minimum of some of the more tangible forms of invisible labor (e.g., mentoring, informal advising, and support for students of color).  This requires building consensus at the unit level, and having it acknowledged and supported as critical evaluation and reward decisions are made at the college and university levels.
In the meantime, there should be efforts to provide mentoring for faculty who are in joint appointments and/or otherwise subject to forms of invisible labor. Many institutions find this a challenge, as it can also be one more demand on faculty who are already over-taxed.  One approach to this challenge is seeking support for faculty mentoring external to the university through organizations like the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity.

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It matters who is in the room

I am finally through the most demanding months associated with my current academic appointment, and have been working on the planned entry on how mentoring networks can help address the complex interplay of promotion, tenure and privilege in the academy.

But, for the moment, I am stopping to write about reflections from my recent trip to the Southern Sociological Society meetings.  I was fortunate with my travel connections and was able to arrive in time for the following session:

Session 121.  Recruiting and Retaining Faculty of Color (Co-sponsored by the Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and SWS-South). 

The session was a panel discussion.  Members of the panel included Anthony Peguero, Virginia Tech University, Ray Block, University of Wisconsin, La Cross & NCFDD, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Duke Universiy, and Shauna Morimoto, University of Arkansas.  Each spoke of personal experiences as faculty of color, and broader perspectives on recruitment, retention, and mentoring.

I will not attempt to summarize the many important points made by the panel members.  However, one clear theme in the discussion addressed the isolation that faculty of color experience in many tenure track positions.   It is reflected in many dimensions of formal and informal interactions and the lack of department and campus mentoring.  It is complicated by the fact that too many faculty of color hires originate from special “opportunity” initiatives.   And much more.

But, what became clear from the discussion was a broad agreement that the majority faculty in sociology departments generally fail to acknowledge, much less address, these issues.

A simple scan of the room provided a pronounced affirmation of the assessment of the panel.  I would estimate that 90 percent of the many persons in attendance in this session were faculty and students of color.

If we are going to build the base for meaningful change, it matters who is, and who is not, in the room.

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Privilege and Mentoring

I have spent 34 years in the academy as a professor in research universities. I think I have learned a lot along the way, insights into what it takes to be a successful faculty member, to earn tenure, to be fully promoted.  Insights that  I can share to help others be successful.

I started this blog to share perspectives on successful paths to promotion and tenure.  It is part of my official role in the university to see if I can help others navigate this journey.   If you have read other entries in this blog, it should be apparent that I feel that transparency is important, such as using rubrics to establish clear standards.

To travel this path without clear guides and mentoring,  seems to me to be more like walking a tightrope in the fog.   A very difficult balancing act with each step, no visible net below, and no clear notion of whether or not you are close to your desired destination.

I know that my experiences are the product of privilege.  I did not grow up in a wealthy family, and without the GI bill following my military service it would have been difficult to complete my education.   Yet, I am a white, heterosexual, male.   In the academy, that means that I had many benefits, occupying an advantaged position on the matrix of privilege.

Did I accomplish what I have because of some combination of ability and hard work?   Yes, I do think I earned what I have accomplished.  But, did my privilege make it easier to accomplish whatever I have than it would be for others who do not share these advantages?  For at least some contexts, the response is clear.  Absolutely!

Recently, while reading the essay Peculiar Benefits, in Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, I came across this:

“You need to understand the extent of your privilege, the consequences of your privilege, and remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about.”

When I read this, it helps me think of my limitations as a mentor.   I can be aware that being a woman, a new mother, a sexual minority, a faculty of color, all come with additional challenges, barriers and prejudices.   I can try, in my administrative roles, to provide resources to address impacts that I can see and to facilitate preventative measures  where possible.  But, I cannot really know.  And, because of that, I cannot be the most effective mentor in addressing some challenges that faculty in these other contexts face.

It takes me back to Kerry Anne Rockquemore’s notion of a network approach to mentoring, creating a “mentoring map”.   I can cover some areas of that map very well.  I would be woefully inadequate in addressing others – particularly those that map onto areas where my privilege is not present.   My privilege does not negate the merits of what I have to say.   But I cannot be a “mentoring guru”.

In my next post I will begin to explore resources that we can use to work together, from multiple positions within and outside of our institutions, to build the kinds of mentoring maps that support all pre-tenure faculty, regardless of where they are positioned in the complex matrix of privilege in the academy.

We may not be able to make the pre-tenure journey feel like less of a tightrope walk,  but we should at least be able to lift the fog for everyone involved.

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Transforming Pre-Tenure Faculty Mentoring

It is widely recognized that mentoring is important in assisting junior faculty to successfully navigate their way to promotion and tenure.  The establishment of clear expectations, through faculty evaluation rubrics, can certainly make the core elements of this journey clearer to both the pre-tenure faculty member and his/her mentors.  But, the scope of successful mentoring experiences encompass many other aspects of successful early career transition.

In my first blog entry on mentoring pre-tenure faculty, I am starting by highlighting guidance from the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity (NCFDD).  Specificially, I am providing a brief overview of a  series of essays on “How to Be a Great Mentor” by Dr. Kerry Anne Rockquemore, President and CEO of NCFDD, that appeared in Inside Higher Education.   Links to each of the original five essays in this series are provided.

Knowing How to Approach Mentoring
In the first essay in this series, Dr. Rockquemore highlights the need to Start Strong.  She advises that there is no viable role for “sink-or-swim type” mentoring.  Instead, she argues that mentors need to understand what pre-tenure faculty need and not all of those needs can be addressed by a single mentor.  In particular, she emphases that:

  • New faculty members have a wide variety of needs
  • It’s normal to have needs
  • You don’t personally have to meet every need
  • The most effective mentoring you can do is to support new faculty members in identifying their needs and figuring out how to get them met by tapping into both on- and off-campus resources.

In each of her essays, Dr. Rockquemore provides a set of challenges; specific activities that she encourages mentors to engage in as a first step in becoming a strong mentor.  These are very helpful suggestions and exercises for mentors to contemplate.

A New Model of Mentoring

In the second essay in this series, Dr. Rockquemore advocates a New Model of Mentoring.  She argues that we need to move away from the traditional approaches to mentoring junior faculty, such as that of a “guru-mentor” who is a “highly supportive all-knowing senior person who shares knowledge with them, cares for them, guides their career over a long period of time and protects them from any evil forces in their department.”   Among other concerns, Dr. Rockquemore notes that the guru-mentor does not reflect the reality of how mentoring is done, it leaves too much of the mentoring responsibilities on one person, and it is a very ineffiecent way to try to meet the diverse needs of young faculty.

Instead, Dr. Rockquemore recommends that we recognize the wide range of diverse needs of newly hired faculty and move to a network-based model of mentoring.   This approach places the pre-tenure faculty member in the center of a support network and then helps them find the answers to the question of “what do I need and where is the best place to get it?”   The NCFDD has developed programs, used by many universities, to support network-based mentoring.   Among other approaches, they have faculty build a “mentoring map” to identify needs and where they are, and are not, matched with adequate resources.   The technique is centered upon the notion that local and remote mentors can teach junior faculty “how to build a network of support they can draw on for the future”.

Be a Coach

The third essay advances the argument that mentors should Be a Coach, rather than a guru.  Dr. Rockquemore argues for a mentoring approach where “Instead of acting as a guru who meets all their needs by giving anecdotal advice about your own experience, you coach them to develop the skill of identifying their needs and figuring out the best places to get these needs met.”  She presents an overview of the essential differences between these mentoring methods:

  • Coaches are performance-driven. Gurus hope for the best.
  • Coaches ask powerful questions. Gurus pontificate.
  • Coaches are task oriented. Gurus are relationship oriented.
  • Coaches are for transition moments. Gurus are forever.
  • Coaches rely on structure. Gurus rely on informality.
  • Coaches are other-focused. Gurus are self-focused.

Her essay provides narratives supporting each of these proposed contrasts.  She adds “that the most important distinction between these two models is the power dynamic. ” 

Dr. Rockquemore argues that for mentors, “in coaching, the goal is not to develop a dependency on you, but to develop independence from you.”

Cultivate Belonging

In the fourth essay, Dr. Rockquemore observes that mentors often shift into a “hands off,” “leave the new person alone,” sink or swim mode.   She argues that instead, the mentor needs to start a process to Cultivate Belonging to the department early in the newly hired faculty members appointment.  She notes that “the first term is exactly when the new person will be seeking social connections, professional acceptance, and a place within the department.”   

In forming her recommendations on how to accomplish this, Dr. Rockquemore complied some basic responses from faculty about what made them feel like they belonged in their departments:   Some seem pretty obvious, perhaps so much so that they do not need to be said?  Yet, they are based on experiences reported by faculty.

  • Know how to say and spell the new person’s name.
  • Ask questions that communicate interest.
  • Proactively schedule time with the new faculty member.
  • Celebrate and acknowledge achievements.
  • Tell your new colleague why you’re glad they have joined the department.
  • Take your new colleague seriously.
  • Make the unspoken rules explicit.

Again, the essay provides narrative and details to reinforce each of these points.  As Dr. Rockquemore notes in closing this essay, she wants to help make it “clear that the first semester isn’t just about adjusting to a new campus and new colleagues, it’s a time of adjusting to a new professional identity.”  This is a critical time for building a sense of community that will aid future recruitment and retention of faculty.

A Mentoring Manifesto

The final essay in this series calls for A Mentoring Manifesto that values faculty, recognizes the flaws in traditional mentoring approaches, and thus make the commitment to “change the way we socialize, mentor and support new faculty members.”

Dr. Rockquemore notes the considerable interest and success that the NCFDD has had by applying the principles outlined in this series of essays.   She notes the following insights gained from their engagement in this transformative mentoring approach:

  • Productivity, Balance, and Joy Are Learned Habits
  • Faculty Crave Community, Support, and Accountability
  • Change the Conversation from Hazing and “Never Enough” to Belonging, Productivty and Satisfaction

I will close my brief overview of this series with two of Dr. Rockquemore’s examples,based on the NCFDD experience, about how the conversations can shift:

  • From “how can I win tenure?” to “how can I work at my highest potential?”
  • From “what can I do to please the senior faculty in my department?” to “what does success look like for me as a whole person?”

 Adding My Observations

There are numerous resources on faculty mentoring.  Indeed, in my future posts, I will be looking at a variety of these resources and asking questions about best practices.   The NSF-funded ADVANCE projects on many campuses have provided important resource bases from which I will be able to draw useful information.  However, I wanted to start my entries on mentoring by looking at the role broadly and how we often deliver mentoring to newly hired faculty.   I think the series of essays by Dr. Rockquemore makes important points about how we need to work to transform this process and to engage in a new conversation. 

I strongly encourage you to click on the links to these essays, and read them in their full context.  The could be a very good starting point within your academic departments for considering how you are currently addressing mentoring and how you might need to embrace a new model of supporting and developing mentoring practices.


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Bad rubrics, worse than none at all?

Are there some circumstances in which development of pre-tenure faculty evaluation rubrics work to the disadvantage of departments?

I asked this question when we started working on our first round of rubrics a few years back.  After spending time researching and developing rubrics, the answer seems clear.  Bad rubrics can create worse outcomes than having never developed them at all.  If the rubrics are poor, they present real disadvantages to departments looking to set standards, gain external recognition, and garner resources in their institutional environment.

What makes for poor rubrics?

More emphasis on quantity than quality

Rubrics that emphasize the number of research products, without reference to quality can create low thresholds that do not reinforce quality standards.   Simply stating numbers of articles, or getting a book published, without articulating something about the quality of the journals or presses is problematic.   Publication in secondary and tertiary journals, or with quasi-vanity book publishers, produce numbers without quality or impact.   That level of standard would not typically be acceptable in a competitive research university setting.

There is, of course, no one gold standard on quality.   It may be that some departments may stipulate that only first or sole authored articles in one or two top ranked generalist journals count.  Others may employ standards that emphasize first and/or sole authored publications in top generalist or specialty journals that are agreed to by the faculty.   The key being, in these departments, the pre-tenure faculty know the standards going into the process.  They can make informed choices about how their scholarship is likely to fit with the emphasis in the department.

Failure to address trajectory

Aside from questions of quantity and quality, rubrics that fail to set markers along the way can be problematic.  If a department faculty define one simple end-point rubric, you fail to provide the kind of guidance that benefits pre-tenure faculty by giving periodic feedback on trajectory.  The earlier the feedback, the better the opportunity they have to correct trajectory in time to still be successful.  Indeed, one concern often raised by external reviewers is a pattern of publications that suggest a tenure push, low productivity over time with a marked increase just prior to tenure.   These types of patterns are particularly concerning for questions of tenure, the likelihood of productivity being sustained over time.   It is also likely that late tenure pushes are often not characterized by placement of work in top tier journals.  

Scholarly focus and contribution

Rubrics that do not address contribution (e.g., sole authorship, first authored) and scholarly focus of the work can also be problematic.  They fail to reinforce what should be the guidance of informed mentors.  While research collaborations are common, there needs to be a clearly defined and emergent focus of the candidate’s schoarship.   In my years in the academy, I have observed attempts by colleagues to try to ‘save’ tenure cases for friends by bringing them into a variety of projects to build numbers of publications.   In strong departments, these fail, as they tend to be scattered in focus and seldom involve primary roles and scholarly contributions.   While the numbers look OK, the external reviewers are likely to quickly note the issues of focus and contribution. 

Bad rubrics send a message

They send a message to the higher administration in your research university.   They convey that you have not clearly articulated standards for pre-tenure faculty.  Moreover, they can be read as a lack of rigorous scholarship standards in the department.  Poorly defined rubrics increase the risk for failed promotion and tenure cases.   When a department endorses the candidate, but college and/or provost-level reviews do not support the recommendation, the consequences for the department are serious; often representing lack of future investments by the college and university.


In my estimation bad rubrics are worse than none at all. 

But, hopefully, this first series of entries on promotion and tenure have helped make the case that when done well, there are a number of tangible advantages of good faculty evaluation rubrics for pre-tenure faculty and their tenure home departments.


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The Other Ways that Faculty Evaluation Rubrics Help

If created, are rubrics helpful to pre-tenure faculty?  Are they helpful to tenured faculty making the evaluations?

At one level, the benefits of faculty evaluation rubrics are obvious.  They provide some level of guidance for pre-tenure faculty.

But, through our initial process of drafting, revising, and approving a set of rubrics, there were some unexpected benefits.  I provide a brief summary of some of my observations below:

A measure of the degree of consensus

As I noted in my prior post, some form of consensus has to be reached eventually when tenured faculty vote on promotion and tenure.   If nothing else, working on rubrics ahead of time helps the tenured faculty see just how far apart they are on the standards for what it may take to get tenure in the department.   It helps senior faculty see the ‘elephant in the room’; unless they forge a consensus, they are putting junior faculty at risk.  There may be a majority of faculty who are content with that level of ambiguity and angst.  If so, it at least lets a prospective assistant professor know the prevailing we-know-tenure-when-we-see-it approach coming into the position.

If we are going to have arguments over standards

It is better to have disagreements over standards when the stakes are less personal.   In academic settings, we can be very engaged and highly agitated over debates on department standards for faculty performance.  These are seldom easy discussions.   But, they are exacerbated when they have to take place in a context where it is clear that the decision is both about standards and whether or not a young faculty member is awarded promotion and tenure.

Identifying and reinforcing our common core

Sociology, like most disciplines, encompasses diverse substantive specializations and methodologies.   In the day-to-day operations of a academic department it is relatively common to be focusing upon differences in our emphases and approaches.  The discussion of faculty evaluation rubrics helped focus the faculty of our common disciplinary tie and, regardless of variation in substance and method, that we shared some common core of standards for evaluation of scholarship.

Faculty recruitment

The evaluation rubrics have been embraced by our junior faculty more than I had imagined.  As we moved to new hires in our program after establishing the rubrics, the junior faculty have encouraged us to use them in recruiting.  Prospective applicants routinely inquire about the rubrics and comment that they appreciate having some broad notion of how the department defines scholarship expectations for junior faculty.  I have no data on this, but I do think it influences decisions on where to apply for positions – at least among relatively equally rated departments.

Motivation for senior scholars

The elaboration of evaluation rubrics for assistant professors also helps set a foundation of expectations for senior scholars, particularly those who are not yet fully promoted.  I left my chair position prior to being able to complete a parallel set of senior faculty evaluation rubrics.  However, the next department chair has taken on the tasks of both updating the first draft of pre-tenure evaluation rubrics and rubrics for tenured faculty.

OK, so this last one may not be as much of a benefit for faculty in general, but …

As a department chair, I found great benefit in having the transparency of faculty evaluation rubrics.  In contentious promotion and tenure cases, they provide a common foundation from where the assessment discussion/disagreement is initiated.   They also provide a base for annual merit evaluations.   Clearly, annual salary increases – one of the more contentious discussions with faculty – reflect more than department merit assessment (e.g., compression, correcting inequities, counter offers).  But, having a transparent set of base evaluation criteria tends to move the conversation from one of ‘you are biased’ to one of how achievements have matched criteria.

Of course, there are challenges for faculty evaluation rubrics that go beyond the challenge of forging the consensus and updating them over time.   Next time, I will look at this question:

Are there some circumstances in which development of pre-tenure rubrics work to the disadvantage of departments?



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Developing Faculty Evaluation Rubrics

It has taken much longer than I had anticipated to put this second entry together.   I am certainly not destined to be a high volume blogger!

In my previous entry I posed this question:   Can department based faculty evaluation rubrics be developed that are broad enough to capture reasonable variations in paths to productivity and impact, yet still retain enough substance to be a useful resource for pre-tenure faculty?

When I have asked department chairs to consider this question, the answer that I get is often along the lines of “our department is too complex”, “we have too many specializations”, or “there is not consensus across interest groups in the program”.

I want to focus, for a moment, on the notion of consensus. Consider what a positive tenure and promotion vote from tenured faculty represents.   The idea is that the tenured faculty in a program will come together, evaluate a candidate’s record, and then cast a vote.   The vote is based on an assessment of the candidate’s cumulative academic record against some standard.   It is logical that there may be variation in the assessments of the tenured faculty.  Ideally, this variation should represent differences in assessments of how the record of scholarship being evaluated matches up to a common standard.  In reality, it likely represents some unknown mix of variation in both perceptions of what the evaluation standard should be and how well the record matches the standard being used by an individual tenured faculty member.

Tenured faculty are expected to provide a consensus evaluation at the time of the tenure vote, and ideally give some indicators of successful trajectories through intermediate reappointment votes.  Would’t it be wiser to work on forging a consensus at the beginning of the process?   Indeed, best practice guidlelines point to the advantage of revisiting and discussing the standards that will be used to evaluate pre-tenure faculty annually.   This is particularly valuable for effective mentoring.  As Kerry Anne Rockquemore of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity argues, clear guidelines for tenure and promotion is the “best mentoring of all and it’s also the one thing that most colleges and universities refuse to provide.”

More to the point, when standards are not transparent, it increases the potential various forms of bias influence the outcomes of tenure votes.  See, for example, the research reported at the recent American Sociological Association on gender bias in tenure processes.

The Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan outlines the benefits, rationale and strategies for developing a transparent tenure process.  Transparency can make it easier for pre-tenure faculty to make decisions that are informed by the standards.

Creating Faculty Evaluation Rubrics

The University of Washington ADVANCE program has posted resources for developing faculty evaluation rubrics.  The point made at the UW Advance program and other sources is that rubrics “not only help maintain consistency in the evaluation process and reduce bias, but they also help those under evaluation have a more clear understanding of performance expectation” for both the pre-tenure and tenured faculty.

In 2006, early in my term as a department chair, I was approached by a faculty member who was one of the investigators on an NSF ADVANCE program.  She convinced me that I should approach the faculty in our department to consider developing pre-tenure evaluation rubrics.   I was not convinced that we would be able to move the tenured faculty off of the ‘we know tenure when we see it’ mentality that I had observed in my 25 years in the academy.   While it took a few faculty meetings, and the better part of a year, we were able to shape a document that everyone could support.

The pre-tenure research rubrics we initially developed provide a brief narrative for each pre-tenure reappointment review along with descriptors for each level of performance using the university standard evaluation adjectives.   The progression of research expectations, across evaluation adjectives and with successive reviews, provides a foundation upon which pre-tenure faculty and their mentors can make general assessments of their progress.  The descriptors are general, providing a range of criteria conditioned upon the impact of the research.  They still provide considerable latitude for interpretation.

Here, I have reproduced the descriptors for the higher research evaluation adjectives for each review cycle.   At the first reappointment review, early in the second year, the following descriptors were developed for the evaluations of ‘good’, ‘superior’ and ‘outstanding’.

Second SmallAt the mid-point of the third year of appointment, the third year review descriptors are adjusted to reflect how the trajectory is expected to have evolved.

third smallThe fourth year review is the final, formal pre-tenure review cycle.  Again, the descriptors for each evaluation adjective reflects the anticipated growth in research program over time.

fourth smallAt tenure review, typically starting early in the sixth year, the descriptors for the adjectives again show trajectory.   The adjective shading used also reflects the expectation that, by tenure review, the evaluation needs to be at least superior or above.

Note that the descriptors still leave room for interpretation that has to be delineated through effective mentoring.   For example, what are “high quality peer review publications”?    In our department, we had a practice of identifying the very top specialty journal(s) in the candidates substantive research area, along with the highly ranked generalist journals in the discipline, as the journals that met this criteria.   So, for example, if someone was working in the area of the sociology of health, the Journal of Health and Social Behavior would likely be one of the top specialty journals.

However, the point is not about what the specific standards for any department.  Other departments may, for example, place more emphasis on publishing books than ours did.  What matters is that the expectations can be spelled out with sufficient clarity to better inform the pre-tenure faculty.

tenure smallOver time, these rubrics have evolved from these initial statements.  But the evolution has been gradual, not sudden, and thus does not produce the kind of risks for shifts in standards that have sometimes been argued in cases of negative tenure recommendations.

In my next entry, I will do my best to address the next question based upon my experiences with faculty evaluation rubrics:

If created, are rubrics helpful to pre-tenure faculty?  Are they helpful to tenured faculty making the evaluations?


I have included the full one page rubric narratives for each of the review cycles below, with shading on the adjectives indicating problematic/adequate progression.   It includes some additional descriptive narrative about the standards and interpretation.

If you select and click on any review rubric page, it will expand to full screen for easy reading.

Second Year Review

Third Year Review

Fourth Year Review

Tenure Review

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Rubrics for Promotion and Tenure?

Nine years ago, after spending the first 25 years of my academic career avoiding department administrative roles, I found it necessary to become a department chair.  Two years ago, I moved to a role as the Associate Dean for Faculty in my college.   Through this journey I have looked at pre-tenure performance expectations and evaluations from multiple perspectives.   Much to my surprise, this journey has lead to my exploring, developing, and evaluating the impacts rubrics for pre-tenure faculty.

The lack of clear and consistent tenure and promotion guidelines is a common concern expressed by pre-tenure faculty.   The expectations for tenure are often spelled out in only the broadest terms, along the lines of ‘excellence in scholarship, teaching and service’.  Few academic departments articulate expectations in any written form to better delineate what this ‘excellence’ entails, even in the research context where one might anticipate more quantifiable objectives.

The Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) 2008 report on what pre-tenure faculty seek provides perspectives from research conducted at six research universities.

Among other findings, this report highlights pre-tenure faculty concerns regarding the lack of clear and transparent tenure expectations and processes.   The report includes perspectives from tenured faculty and administrators that address the challenges for articulating any broad standards.

It is clear that any solution to this challenge would need to be developed within the academic department.  Department faculty are often resistant to spell out specific criteria for promotion and tenure.   Rather, the assessment relies upon the hopeful development of some consensus among tenured faculty at the time of tenure review.   The issue for a pre-tenure faculty member is if, and in what ways, the bases of the faculty evaluation is communicated.  Are the broad expectations made clear as one moves through the pre-tenure years? Are there benchmarks that help the pre-tenure faculty assess if they are establishing a trajectory that is consistent with success?

The common answer to these questions seems to rely upon senior faculty mentors and department chairs giving clear and consistent feedback to pre-tenure faculty.   However, even if there is some consistency in these evaluations, there may remain the ambiguity regarding the degree to which there is consensus on these standards among the tenured faculty.   Too often, one is left with the impression that senior faculty have a sense of knowing tenure when they see it, with each person’s vision being unique in ways that are not easily discovered.

One approach to this concern are proposals for developing rubrics for promotion and tenure.   This has been a strategy identified in some of the work associated with NSF ADVANCE programs.   For example, take a look at the summary overview on faculty evaluation rubrics from the ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change at the University of Washington.

This brief overview provides a description of a rubric approach applied to tenure evaluation and links to a couple of examples.  As noted, quality tenrue rubrics would need to address three elements;  criteria, levels of performance, and descriptors.   The first two are relatively easy to delineate in most academic programs.  For example, criteria broadly fall into some mix of research, teaching, and service, often spelled out in contracts with proportion of time/effort assigned to each.   In research university settings, it is common to see the research apportionment to be in the neighborhood of 50%.

The question of levels of performance are also typically well-defined within an academic institution framework.  At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, we employ a standard 5-point evaluation with the following adjectives:  inadequate, adequate, good, superior, and outstanding.   The university criteria for promotion specifies a faculty member reaching an overall assessment of superior or better, and for tenure a reasonable expectation of continued performance at this level in the future.

The difficulty is encountered when we move to the third element, descriptors.  What does a ‘superior’ look like at the end of the fifth year of pre-tenure employment as a faculty member.  For most disciplines, this is when the research record will be sent out to a set of experts in the field, external reviewers from similar types of institutions for an independent evaluation of productivity.   Has the feedback and evaluation through these first five years been clear and consistent enough that a pre-tenure faculty members have some clear sense where they sit?

In addition, if we wait until the fifth year, it is really too late?   It seems logical to have some system of markers along the way, that help pre-tenure faculty assess their trajectories.  One logical approach to this may be to develop rubrics that are associated with any major pre-tenure evaluations.   In my college, we have three pre-tenure reappointment evaluations which include votes from the tenured faculty in the department.  These assessments, conducted during the second, third, and fourth years provide a logical place to consider whether we could articulate descriptors for evaluation rubrics.

The challenge with developing descriptors attached to evaluation adjectives is to make them specific enough to provide guidance and feedback, but general enough to capture diversity in paths to research creativity and impact.   This challenge can be exacerbated in disciplines where there is variation in research methodology, publishing mode, and external grant support across sub-fields.

All of which leads me to these questions.

Can department based pre-tenure evaluation rubrics be developed that are broad enough to capture reasonable variations in paths to productivity and impact, yet still retain enough substance to be a useful resource for pre-tenure faculty?

If created, are rubrics helpful to pre-tenure faculty?  Are they helpful to tenured faculty making the evaluations?

Are there some circumstances in which development of pre-tenure rubrics work to the disadvantage of departments?

On the balance, do the benefits outweigh the costs?

Over the next few posts, I will try to address some of these questions.










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