Which institutions request external review for tenure files?

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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.

16 thoughts on “Which institutions request external review for tenure files?

  1. The University of Texas system is requiring external reviews in ALL tenure and promotion decisions from ALL of its institutions now.

    At UTPA (definitely not R1), we did not have external reviews until last year. This was a big shift, and we’ve had a lot of discussions about how to implement policies about how to handle external reviews.

    “External reviews are presumably done to size up research, and not teaching.” Some of out faculty members insisted that they wanted their external reviewers evaluate all their contributions, including teaching. But this was a minority view; most faculty thought that the main, if not only, job of the external reviewer was to speak to the research program.

    One argument for external reviews is that they might help prevent cronyism. But the down side is that they might indicate that administrators don’t trust their departments.

  2. My college, Siena College wants external reviews and so does Union College where my husband works.

  3. University of Northern British Columbia is a very small (~4,000 ugrad and grad students) institution, but one of four “research universities” in BC, Canada. We have to propose 9 names, of which 3 are chosen for an external review, primarily of scholarship. I agree that it seems very odd not to get an independent assessment of how you would be viewed at other institutions, although the T&P committees sometimes more or less ignore the external reviews here as well.

  4. University of Calgary asks for external reviews for tenure assessment. But we’re the Canadian equivalent of an R1, more or less, so you’d expect that we would.

  5. For the Pennsylvania State University System (PASSHE) external reviews are not done, although as the faculty member undergoing review you may certainly request letters from outside the university. PASSHE schools are primarily undergraduate teaching institutions although there has been an increasing focus on research. Of course that leads to the ongoing struggle of how we focus our research – primarily undergraduate or PI focused where we might use undergraduates; some schools do have graduate degree programs but fewer in the sciences.

  6. Thanks for the comments, folks. It seems that while many places with relatively low research expectations (below R1 levels of productivity) still get external evals, there are a number that still don’t.

    Even in the same university system, it can be variable, as Pleuni and I are both at CSUs, and mine doesn’t but hers does — though her campus is one of the highest in terms of resources/expectations in the system while I’m on the other end of that ranking.

  7. Our institution has recently been recategorized from a primarily undergraduate teaching institution to a more comprehensive university. I’m up for tenure now and there is no external review during that process, however, during application for promotion to full professor external reviews are required. We are looking to see whether tenure will soon require external reviews also.

  8. Our institution has recently been recategorized from a primarily undergraduate teaching institution to a more comprehensive university. I’m up for tenure now and there is no external review during that process, however, during application for promotion to full professor external reviews are required. We are looking to see whether tenure will soon require external reviews also.

  9. Birmingham-Southern College (~1300 undergrads, no grads) requires 5 externals and we are far below R1s in publication requirements.

  10. Purchase College (SUNY) is a public liberal arts college, definitely not R1, and external letters are required. It seems unusual to me that an institution WOULDN’T require some kind of external validation when considering someone for tenure– but my own experience of the field is somewhat limited.

  11. You wrote: “For what it’s worth, I’ve not yet gotten one external review request in the five years since I’ve been tenured.”

    Oddly, now that you mention it, I haven’t had a single one either. I review a zillion papers and grant proposals, but no promotion dossiers.

    Is it possible that’s because of a dearth of hiring over the past decade or so, meaning that there are very few (and declining numbers) of us in TT Assistant or Associate roles left?

    Of course, N=2, but it does make me wonder…

  12. My comprehensive uni (former normal school with big undergrad population–83% of 20K+ students–and some grad programs) does not require external letters for tenure. The institution did move toward higher research expectations ~15 years ago with accompanying lighter teaching loads (4/4 -> 3/3) but has partially walked it back. The 3/3 loads & accompanying research still hold in my college of math/science. My college does now require external letters for promotion to full professor. Other colleges (liberal arts, health, etc.) don’t.

  13. Kenyon College gets external reviews for both tenure and promotion. Since tenure, I have had one request as an external reviewer for tenure, and one for a departmental external review, which I unfortunately had to turn down due to a previous commitment.

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