Today, I’m submitting my file for promotion. It’s crazy to think I submitted my most recent tenure file five years ago, it feels closer to yesterday. Unless I get surprised (and it wouldn’t be the first time), I’ll be a full Professor if I’m here next year. And yet, throughout this entire process, there has been zero external validation of tenure and promotion. I think this is really odd.
This makes me wonder, outside R1 universities, does anybody use external reviews for tenure and promotion?
What is your experience? I would guess that the very well-funded elite SLACs, with relatively high research expectations, might do so. But I honestly don’t know. Your input in the comments would be really interesting and useful.
Here is what I do know, as of this writing:
At my last job — the University of San Diego — there was no external review for tenure or promotion. The policies allowed you the option of requesting supplemental letters yourself, from whomever you chose. This option was not typically exercised and had a negative sheen to it, with the hint that if you needed outside letters, you have been told that excellence in your file wasn’t adequately self-evident.
In my current job — CSU Dominguez Hills — outside reviews are not permitted. When I came up for tenure, in a question-and-answer session with the then-interim provost (we’ve had 5 provosts since then), he said external evaluations were not performed and that candidates could not request or add into their files any outside evaluations of any kind. Independent assessment were not allowed. Period. Even if there was nobody in the department vaguely familiar with your subfield. You’d just have to do your best to educate your department tenure committee about standards in your subfield. (Fortunately, an ecologist was the chair when I came up, so I didn’t have that issue. In many other departments, most faculty are unique in their specialties.)
External reviews are presumably done to size up research, and not teaching. At USD, the research bar for tenure was a single paper over six years (and when push comes to shove, that paper isn’t necessary). At my current university, it’s about three papers or so, though the criteria have more nuance than that. I’ve visited a couple other teaching-focused campuses of different flavors recently, and they don’t use external reviews either. In one case, where the campus explicitly expects faculty to be nationally or internationally respected for their scholarship, I was surprised that there wouldn’t be external validation of this expectation.
External review of tenure packages should come from tenured faculty from comparable institutions. For what it’s worth, I’ve not yet gotten one external review request in the five years since I’ve been tenured.
Clearly, our identity as researchers would be improved if our universities were more diligent in finding the appropriate peer group to assess research. Why bother having “recognition as a researcher” as a tenure criterion, unless the only people who can accurately assess that criterion are not consulted? Universities with heavy teaching loads (like 4/4 here) cannot reasonably expect their faculty to be nationally recognized as scholars. But if a teaching load is, say 3/2 or lower, then I think that’s a reasonable expectation. It would be a damn shame if someone didn’t get tenure on account of inadequate research productivity, but didn’t get an external review from peers in the field. I think this might happen once in a while at teaching institutions, but this is me just guessing. I’d love to lean more.