I have a very selective idea of who exactly would constitute a "jury of my peers."

How did that Gummi Bear get on the T & P Committee?

Female Science Professor had an interesting post earlier this week about a side-effect of tenure that bugs a lot of people:  many faculty who were tenured and promoted under one set of standards are now responsible for applying a more demanding set of standards to today’s tenure and promotion candidates.  (I freely confess that I’m one of them–I went up for tenure under the existing standards in my college, and a few years later, those standards were significantly revised and elevated.)

A not-uncommon complaint of tenure-track faculty, particularly during the tenure decision year, is that some of those who are deciding their Fate would not get tenure under today’s rather rigorous system of evaluation. How can the process be fair if people unqualified for tenure today participate in decisions about the tenure of others?

It’s a complicated question because, although the tenure bar has definitely been raised with time, you can’t know whether someone who had too-low-for-tenure-today productivity way back when would rise to the challenge of today’s standards or not.

FSP decides that ultimately this isn’t such a big problem, and I agree.  There are jerks everywhere, and having an awesome record of publications and grants is no guarantee of sanity or reason in tenure votes.  Fortunately, the reasonable people in most departments outnumber the jerks.  In my department, the generation of men hired in the 1960s and early 1970s were hired to teach a heavy load (4-4 or 3-3, since it changed over time)–whereas people hired in my department since the late 1990s have taught a 2-2 load.  (Of course the standards for publication were going to go up–I don’t work at Candyland University.)  It only seems fair. 

Furthermore–the members of the current tenure and promotion committee may or may not have been present when your department’s current tenure standards were developed.  But their job is to ensure that tenure and promotion standards are communicated clearly at the point of hire and upon each annual review, and then to apply the standards fairly when a candidate applies for tenure or promotion.  As FSP writes,

It’s not possible to deny a vote to all those tenured professors whose scholarly records fall below the current standards for tenure, but it is possible and necessary for everyone voting on someone else’s career fate to think very carefully about what standards are being applied, whether these standards have been clearly and fairly communicated from Day One, whether the candidate has had the time and resources to fix any issues revealed during the 1-3 year reviews, and whether the candidate has met the standards for tenure according to the norms of the discipline, the department, and the university. If these requirements are emphasized and openly discussed by the department leaders with the tenured faculty, perhaps it will be more difficult for the unjustly critical to cast a hypocritical no vote.

There are a lot of problems with tenure–but this isn’t one of them.

0 thoughts on “I have a very selective idea of who exactly would constitute a "jury of my peers."

  1. Two quick comments, Historiann. The last quoted line, of course, is the problem: hypocritical votes. There would be far less problem with tenure processes and decisions if people didn’t sometimes cast hypocritical votes. All working scholars ought to understand that change within their fields is the norm, not stasis, so I agree, why worry about tenure-voters’ ability to understand change? It should be a given.

    But more, I have a sudden desire to apply for a sweet, sugary position at Candyland University.


  2. Wow, the caption on that picture changed literally as I was clicking on it, and I thought I had somehow caused that to happen! That was a neat-delete. I sat around a table in a situation of this sort recently and it was–to invoke the ad from an off-the-pipe Philadelphia men’s store–IN-SAAANE! It got resolved, because people got hungry and wanted to get out of there, which is a pretty weird standard of operations for a tenure colloquy. Too complicated for a comment, and besides, I have to go update and reactivate my app. at Candyland. So they finally reopened that search, huh? Sweet.


  3. It seems to me that the notion that the tenure bar has definitely been raised with time devalues the contributions and considerable talents of our forefathers (indeed they are for the most part fathers). Historiann and FSP get at this issue by pointing out that those oldsters may well have risen to the changed set of expectations and succeeded under the new regimes. But what strikes me as missing is credit for the effort and talent required to teach a heavy load while staying current enough in the discipline (through unfunded research or other means) to satisfy student needs and their own scholarly desires. Observational evidence from my own campus suggests that many big money hunters don’t particularly liketo teach and are not required to be very good at interacting with our students. The tenure bar has shifted, the expectations are different than they were a few decades ago, but has it really risen?

    Here at Provincial State U, we used to talk a lot about the “scholarly agenda.” I like this frame because it recognizes that a professor in the school of fine art is just as much a scholar as the multi-million dollar biology prof. Sadly, we have moved on and now talk about “market based” institutional development.


  4. Trufflua–I think this is right: “But what strikes me as missing is credit for the effort and talent required to teach a heavy load while staying current enough in the discipline (through unfunded research or other means) to satisfy student needs and their own scholarly desires.” Some of my now-retired colleagues had incredibly impressive publication records despite their heavy loads, and all of them took on a huge proportion of departmental service while a new generation of assistant proffies were buffing their resumes (and got most of us successfully tenured and promoted, BTW).

    Ugh to your “market-based institutional development.”


  5. My colleague Professor Venerable (about whom I have blogged) has my undying appreciation for the hours and hours he puts in serving on the most tedious campus- and system-wide communities.

    I just wish he equally appreciated my desire to publish. But not-so-subtle jabs about me abandoning my students to go off and do archival research make me less appreciative of the work he does.


  6. There is also no reason to assume that senior colleagues with tenure couldn’t meet the current standards. They met the standards in place at the time.


  7. Katherine–that’s right, and most of our recent tenure candidates (including me!) far exceeded the requirements of the older standards. In many ways, our new standards were just catching up to where our advanced assistant professors were anyway.


  8. In law there’s no question that newly tenured people outperform the oldsters. (I’m middle-aged so can comment neutrally [!] on the two cohorts.) Law teaching before the 1970s was a nearly 100% white male part-time perch for people who spent most of their time either doing nothing or representing clients. Teaching loads were heavier, but from what I hear, these profs put much less work into class preparation. (Pay was worse, however, even adjusted for inflation.)

    I’m okay with oldsters voting on tenure–mainly because tenure denials are so rare in this little corner of the academy; they can do little harm–but what I can’t bear are celebrations of long stints in the business, like 25-year anniversaries. These affirmative action babies, beneficiaries of racism and sexism, would never have been hired under today’s criteria and would have been tossed out if it weren’t for the job security of tenure. With mandatory retirement gone, they enjoy easy perpetual employment. I’m happy enough they’re still alive, I guess; but damned if I’ll applaud them for continuing to breathe on the payroll.


  9. I second Lady Prof: Some institutions are good at rewarding longevity irrespective of accomplishment. Some senior colleagues are outstanding and would have made it anywhere. Others are already in retirement, but still show up on campus to teach their classes and have lunch with their cronies. They pointedly do not hold office hours or advise students, apparently they did their share of that twenty years ago.


  10. The problem isn’t the changing tenure standards. The problem is that the competition for tenure-track positions back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s was so fucking weak. It was a bunch of fucking white d00ds waltzing into assistant professor positions while about 60% of the population of the United States wasn’t even in the fucking game.


  11. Something about this line of thought has been bothering me all afternoon, like a little rock in my shoe. Why resent the oldsters for not having been in the overworked, stress-inducing predicament we now find for ourselves? It’s akin to the popular resentment about public employees for their better than average (less meager than average?) health care plans.


  12. truffula–my thoughts exactly. In fact, I’ve been mulling a post on all of the ressentiment directed at people whose jobs haven’t totally disappeared or fallen apart (i.e. unionized workers, public sector employees, tenured faculty, etc.) I’d be very interested in your thoughts.

    CPP–I think you raise a good point, but unfortunately, the playing field is far from level now. The d00ds still dominate my profession–and I can only imagine that the numbers in biomedical research are comparable (or worse.) I think women account for about 40-44% of all new Ph.D.s each year for the past decade, and we’re about 1/3 of all history faculty in the U.S. (although I’m sure that’s not just tenure-track and tenured faculty, but all contingent, adjunct, and “special” faculty.


  13. It’s certainly true that the dOOds still dominate, and though things have improved since my long-gone youth, we have a long way to go. As to weak competition in the old days, though, I can’t agree with Comrade PP, at least about history. In the 50s and 60s, things were just as he describes–as James McPherson pointed out when he was president of the AHA. But our market crashed right at the start of the 1970s, as Historiann has noted in a previous discussion, and since then competition for tenure-track positions has always been intense, though not equally so.


  14. CPP–I think you raise a good point, but unfortunately, the playing field is far from level now.

    I didn’t mean to imply that it is completely level now, but it is certainly more level now than when many of our current washed-up white-d00d tenured fuck-up assholes first got their positions.


  15. I’d second Tony Grafton’s memory. There weren’t much of anybody–d00ds or whoever–“waltzing” into assistant professorships, in history, in most of the ’70s or much of the ’80s. There were very few such vacancies, and none of them were “searched” in the way we use that term now. This rearguard use of the tail-end of the “old boy network” system of hiring might have been thought to have solidified the domination of the d00ds, and in some places and many ways it may very well have. But at the institution Historiann and I shared (scarcely overlapping, except in an artifactual way), it saw the first baby steps toward I won’t say gender equity or even parity, but at least visibility. At the beginning of the ’70s Caroll Smith-Rosenberg had to get an appointment in the Psychiatry Dept. at the Med. School, because of nepotism rules. At mid-decade, Drew Faust was a graduate student there and finished and managed to stay around on the faculty and play her way onto the starting team, and has done pretty well since then. By the time actual hiring began again in the mid-80s, a functional beachhead had been established for women in that department, although progress has been *anything* but steady. I just did a quick headcount in the AHA Guide, and the numbers there are just about exactly as Historiann estimates (give or take a few for ambiguous first names), at 29M/16F in the standing faculty (c. 65%/35%). I’m not campaigning for the next “Whiggie” here, H., just saying that narratives about d00ds waltzing can obscure as much as they reveal.


  16. In my discipline the problem of previous generation tenured faculty is less in the raised standards or the ease or difficulty of being tenured now. The changes in concepts, introduction of interdisciplinary research and new measures are foreign to the older generation (and some of the newer guys).


  17. p.s. Drew Faust, it should be said, was trained and then hired in another department than history, but in an allied and disciplinarily-appropriate one in the humanities/social sciences.


  18. At my institution, they kept the heavy teaching loads and really really raised the research requirement. There are all combinations of things out there.


  19. First, it’s nice to find this discussion of issues/questions that are fresh on my own mind. My institution has done the same as Mark’s and it has affected me and two other junior faculty adversely. The tenure and promotion requirements at my university changed when I was three or so years in, and un-tenured faculty were not “grandfathered.” So I got outstanding annual reviews up until my third year, and then, boom, “Does not meet” in the scholarship dept. in my fourth.

    But the real question I want to ask here is one that I haven’t found answered in my own research on the topic of heavy teaching loads:

    Is there no difference between a 4-4 load with four preps, including graduate courses, and a 4-4 with only two preps or even three without graduate courses?


  20. Prof. Noone: that’s a major, major party foul. If you were hired and reviewed for 3 years under one set of standards, it’s grossly unjust then to hold you to another set of standards for tenure. You should find an attorney and have hir review your original contract and your annual review letters. When we switched to new standards, we exempted all but first-year faculty, who were hired with the understanding that the tenure requirements would be higher for them (and we finalized the new requirements in their first year.)

    I think the situation you and Mark are under are due to the job market: what used to be considered teaching schools can hire star scholars, and so they do. I think there is in fact a difference between 4 preps and 2–it also depends on how large those classes are, and if there are any seminars. But, the other factor to consider is boredom–teaching two preps twice in a week may lead to burnout. I taught a 3-3 load once, and came to dread the terms in which I “only” had 2 preps b/c I was teaching the U.S. survey. I was ready by the end of the term to stab my eyes out with a fork, I was soooo bored. (But YMMV, of course.)


  21. We’re dealing with this right now chez moi. We’re trying to find language that ‘protects’ the old-timers; recent revisions have simply repeated a line about ‘document X that was in effect at the time of hire/tenure.’ Problem is that most of those documents either didn’t exist or were vague as to be non-existant. Memory is a poor substitute. Have had colleagues tell me that the understanding was they had a job unless they were caught peeing in front of the class or doing a student during class. They resist mightily any attempt to change that understanding, or even articulate it.

    Protecting them means protecting self too. As standards change, how do we keep all the accumulated agreements straight?


  22. Stay that fork, Historiann, until you’ve tried the 2-preps/4 reps option! 🙂 If the preps don’t getcha, the reps will, no matter the “load.” You can be hitting on every cylinder, riffing, making amazing spontaneous connections, whatever you want in Section 003. Then at some point halfway in you inevitably think to yourself: OMG, I’m going to have to cross this same strait again in Section 004 fifteen minutes after this class is over! Can I “stick” all of these same demanding moves again, or not? Should I even want to do that, rather than try to be brilliant with the same stuff in a different way? Much less could I do it a third time this afternoon?!? As Nikita Kruschev once said [paraphrase alert] in a quite different context, the dead will envy the bored.

    On the question of T&P “standards/requirements,” I smile. Here at B. State the tenure bar is don’t get hit by a bus (or make anybody in your department mad). For promotion, it’s whatever the annually-elected U-wide committee says it is, that year, any year. As an illegally-elected member of said committee this year (through no fault of my own, I hasten to say), I may offer to take a fourth, overload, section of the previously referenced course to stay out of that fray.


  23. Thanks, Historiann. Good advice. I haven’t had to deal with the boredom factor of 2 preps in a few years, not since my first job in academe as a lecturer. It was a 4-3 with never more than two preps, and I found that the boredom worked in my favor: I was more productive in scholarship. But in my present job, it’s always been four separate preps per week, including graduate classes. I found that detrimental to my scholarship. My burnout came as a result of having to expend so much energy on teaching and service that there was little left at the end of the day to do my scholarship justice. But we keep trudging on. Cheers.


  24. The comments by Mark, Prof Noone & Belle resonate with my own experiences. I do believe that Historiann is correct, the job market, plus high standards of graduate training and professional grooming do make it possible for teaching institutions to hire star researchers.

    As Prof Noone suggests, it is also a case of creeping standards. The university where I work hired a new President three years ago. The old president told the junior faculty to concentrate on teaching and service. The new president said, keep up the good work, but we expect a higher standard of scholarship too. But expectations were never put in writing and certainly not in the contract. The word was handed down and over the past few years the deans have been pushing scholarship in the annual reviews.

    Belle, your experience disturbs me the most. The senior faculty at my school had these ‘understandings’ and gentleman’s agreements going back decades, but no documentation. They do not want to update the contract language to make the new expectations explicit. The senior faculty find comfort in vagueness and obfuscation. I would find more comfort in knowing where the bar was set.

    Maybe I’m wrong. I know that obfuscation and footdragging can be effective tools for staving off the bureaucracy and defending our scholarly autonomy. But frankly, I would just like to do my job and know what the requirements are for promotion. I would also like to be paid more if I publish and I prove myself to be a more effective teacher and advisor. I think of myself as employee of the university, hired to do a specific job. But, like I said, maybe I’m wrong and I have a bad attitude.


  25. Oh yeah, to answer Prof Noone’s question: I teach a 4/4, usually with three preps. This year I have been trying to just teach two preps per semester, so I have three sections of the same Western Civ class and one upper division class. Honestly, its not a big difference. Maybe the three preps is more fun because I get to teach one section of the early modern Western Civ two of the modern.


  26. With regard those who define the geometry of the playing field, CPP writes our current washed-up white-d00d tenured fuck-up asshole

    My own experiences, within my home department and in my professional community at large, suggest that there are just as many young white dude assholes as oldster white dude assholes. I’ve seen it in our hiring process, I’ve seen it in the blank stares when I suggest that selecting against everybody who does not look just like you robs the discipline of talent, I’ve seen it in the endless (and annoying) conversations with colleagues about whether or not “women have come a long way,” and of course in my own professional experiences.

    These sentiments span the generations and it sometimes seems that on balance, my older male colleagues are more sensitive to women’s issues than are younger colleagues. At least some oldsters ask, “hey I see we have a problem, would you mind sharing your ideas about how to fix it?” Young dudes never ask this, they just tell me that times are great for women. This may just be the benefit of the long view and the security that this line of inquiry will not cost the oldsters their jobs. Young dudes, perhaps, brought up in the tradition of Virginia Slims and still fighting for job security, are less inclined toward reflection on the supposed plights of others. I could write similarly about retrograde views regarding ethnicity.

    I participated in an international symposium a few weeks ago in which about 7% of the spoken presentations (chosen by a committee) were given by women. Low for my field, but not exceptionally so. During a horrible dinnertime discussion about affirmative action one night I was asked: “so then what about allowances for children of mothers who smoke or drink during pregnancy? Should they get a break too because of how they were born?” Being born female, according to my friend who asked this, is to have a birth defect, one that explains why my kind are not as bright as their kind. The details of the conversation differ from episode to episode but the theme is always the same. From a dispassionate distance, I see this as an expression of fear about dwindling job prospects and the extremely competitive funding environment. But up close, I recognize that most of my peers (some of them actual friends) are not my allies.


  27. I’ve been mulling a post on all of the ressentiment directed at people whose jobs haven’t totally disappeared or fallen apart (i.e. unionized workers, public sector employees, tenured faculty, etc.)

    Something I ponder a lot is how members of the professoriate define themselves in the world of work. In my opinion, a fundamental philosophical impediment in the professoriate is understanding ourselves to be “white collar” professional types rather than labor. Yet labor we are on the institutional balance sheet. This view limits our ability to work collectively across departments. We compete against each other for student contact hours. We suspect each other and question “agendas” when the provost nods his head toward one college and not another. Keeping departments fighting amongst themselves for relevancy in the corporate university is a great way to keep us from recognizing our common cause and acting accordingly.

    My view about resentment against public employees and other unionized workers is not very nuanced. An interesting thread to follow, I think, is why there is no similar resentment about the “cadillac” health and retirement plans of corporate executives (also financed by the public’s money, either in the market or through state and federal subsidies). Anti-union sentiments are stirred up as a means to fight labor from the inside. There must be some household economic security/comfort thresholds between which this kind rhetoric works.


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