Today’s post is the first in a two-part series written by a junior scholar I’ll call Hannah who endured a rocky tenure review. Hannah was lucky in that she works on a unionized campus, and she had supportive departmental colleagues. She wrote to me late last summer when things started to go bad, seeking my advice as Historiann. I encouraged her to reach out to as many people as she could on her campus and in her discipline, and to tell other people what was happening to her because abusive colleagues and administrators thrive on the silence and shame they hope to instill in junior faculty facing the threat of failure.
Hannah prefers to publish this post pseudonymously, because as she put it in an email to me recently, “I’d like to go up for full professor some day.” But in the spirit of telling her story and refusing to be slienced or shamed, she has agreed to share her story here.
Tenure review is one of the final rites of passage in the academic world. Professors fortunate enough to have tenure track jobs dread its arrival, and tenured professors (or so I am told) try not to think about it. At its best, the tenure process provides both assessment and affirmation for the years of work leading to the review itself, at worst, it can become the stuff of nightmares. My experiences fell into the second category, and it is both Historiann’s and my hope that they may prove helpful to anyone else who finds themselves in a similar situation.
I am a professor in the humanities at a regional state university. Both my department and my dean’s office had positively evaluated my scholarship, teaching and service during the five years before my tenure review. I’m also in a book-intensive discipline. My book was not yet in print but was under contract to be published in the fall of my tenure review, and the last two professors in my department both received tenure with books published during the tenure review process. I also had published articles in peer reviewed journals and begun work on a second book, including an article under review and two planned conference presentations.
A few weeks before the start of my tenure review year, I was summoned to a meeting with the dean of my college, whose academic discipline is in the social sciences. I asked for an agenda for the meeting and was told that it could not be disclosed to me. I asked multiple colleagues whether I should bring a union representative with me and all of them assured me that they did not think the meeting was anything to be concerned about. During the meeting, my dean informed me that since my book was not yet in print and and my published articles both had no citations and were published in journals without indexes, he planned to recommend that my contract not be renewed past that academic year. In addition, I had forfeited the right to apply for tenure. I asked if the decision had been made in consultation with my department and was told that my department chair had agreed to it.
My memories of the first twenty-four hours after the meeting are blurred but I primarily remember a bleak sense of resignation that my academic career was ending even before I had applied for tenure. Once the shock wore off and I had begun talking with colleagues at my university, I decided to ask what options were available to me. I continued my conversations with scholars across my academic field and contacted my union. My department chair said she was given no choice but to agree with the dean’s recommendation, while my department’s personnel committee chair was unaware of the situation until I contacted him. My union said it was a contract violation for the dean to have told me that I had forfeited the right to apply for tenure but that deans could recommend that a professor’s contract not be renewed past the sixth year. I had the right to appeal to the university provost for my contract to be renewed for a seventh year so that if I did not receive tenure, I would, at least, have a terminal year.
My appeal was written in consultation with professors from multiple universities and focused on the methods used in my field to assess scholarship. The provost agreed to renew my contract for my seventh year and I submitted my tenure portfolio at this time, which included a letter from a professor outside my university verifying the use of peer review when assessing scholarship in our field rather than indexing and citation metrics. My union ruled that my tenure review would occur with the decisions made by the customary rota of the candidate’s department, college rank and tenure committee, dean, university rank and tenure committee, provost and chancellor, and, finally, university trustees, as well as external review letters from scholars in the candidate’s field. I raised concerns about my dean’s ability to be objective when assessing my tenure portfolio and was told that there were enough other votes in the process to maintain a fair tenure review.
Tune in tomorrow to find out how Hannah’s tenure review went, and to read her advice for those facing similar situations. If you have any ideas or advice based on your own sad–or happy!–experiences, please share them in the comments below.
Part II is now published–find out how it all turned out by clicking here.