Making a Tenure Decision

In making a tenure decision, it is critically important that scrupulous attention be given to evaluating the materials that pertain to each candidate. To ensure that I have looked at all aspects of the folder, I use the following checklist, which covers the areas of teaching, research/creative activity, and service. It also helps me to summarize information, as it is built around a series of questions that focus on the mission of The Florida State University.

Teaching Activities

I examine a list of all courses taught to gain a sense of the candidate's teaching diversity. An expectation is that all candidates will have been involved in both undergraduate and graduate courses in those units with degrees at both levels.

Next I look at the SIRS forms (and, although it is less valuable in my opinion, the SUSSAI). I am interested in student responses to several questions: enthusiasm of the instructor, concern for students, coverage of material, organization, etc. I look carefully at the responses where "strongly agree" is indicated (as this differs, in my opinion, from simply "agree"). I don't pay too much attention to the question of "competence," as judged by students, except in higher- level graduate courses.

I examine the course syllabus and focus on whether (1) it meets university guidelines for content on grading policy, attendance, missed exams, etc.; (2) whether it outlines the course well enough to give a naive student an idea of the flow and direction of the course; and (3) whether the readings are appropriate to the level of the course. For example, do the graduate courses include a significant amount of reading from the primary literature?

Other issues I consider include the pattern of exams and quizzes. For example, are there opportunities for students to overcome a single poor performance? Are the exams both evaluative and learning instruments?

What other supplementary material is included in the course? Are additional learning activities included, such as service learning where appropriate? Has the candidate been involved in any Directed Individual Studies or Honors Theses? Has the appropriate technology been integrated into the course, such as web sites or electronic journals?

What contributions has the candidate made to the education of graduate students through service on graduate committees and direction of theses and/or dissertations? I expect a candidate for Associate Professor to have directed masters students and a candidate for Professor to have directed doctoral students in those units with graduate programs.

After reviewing the above material, the candidate's statement on teaching, and any other material included, I ask myself, "Has this person demonstrated a commitment to quality and quantity in teaching activities?" If the answer is yes, I continue; if not, I am compelled to vote to deny tenure and/or promotion. A failure in the area of teaching cannot be compensated for by any level of performance in the area of research, in my opinion. A "no" in this first area undercuts the mission of the university.

Research and Creative Activity

In many ways I find research and creative activity easier to assess than teaching because of the public nature of scholarship. There are reviews, citations, and assessments of the quality of the outlet.

First, I ask when and where a tenure candidate's dissertation work was published. Next, I examine the pattern of publishing and, where possible, compare the numbers and types of publications to national standards. Similarly, I consider the quality of the outlets, e.g., the quality of the journals or presses. For creative activities I ask whether the performance was at a local or a national level. Is the candidate the primary author of the works? Has the candidate established a plan for scholarship? Has this person's work established an intellectual area and national or international reputation?

In those areas where grant support is available, I expect proposals to have been submitted and external funds obtained. Many research areas are quite expensive, and the university can provide only a portion of the funds necessary to conduct the research.

Generally, I read two articles or works and examine them in detail. Of course no one person can evaluate the content in very many fields, but I can read for quality of the writing and, where appropriate, for statistical sufficiency, or for conclusions as contributions to knowledge, and I can gain a general sense of the work.

Public Service

Service has been traditionally defined as uncompensated efforts in one's area of expertise in the community, state, or nation. Public service includes contributions to scholarly and professional organizations, public schools, and governmental agencies or boards. Excluded from this area are such activities as Rotary, Scouts, or church, synagogue or mosque work, political office, and other similar but still worthy activities.

Outside Letters

The names of the individuals making recommendations and their institutions should be considered as well as anything else that indicates their appropriateness for evaluating the candidate and the area of scholarship.

I read each letter carefully both for content and for tone. It is always pleasant when a referee can comment extensively on the work of the candidate and its influence on the field. I find single- paragraph letters stating that the candidate is generally worthy to be of little value in my overall effort to give attention to details of performance.

When we request outside letters, we specifically ask the writer to make a direct statement recommending the candidate for promotion and/or tenure. Therefore, when a referee omits any statement regarding a recommendation, I assume that I am to assume the omission is purposeful.

Overall Evaluation

In the process of reading all of the material, I find it rewarding to have gained a sense of the candidate's performance and the candidate's overall scholarly contributions. The importance of tenure to this university demands such a careful review by the Provost in order to be as aware as possible of the overall academic accomplishments of faculty.

In most cases such evaluation is a pleasant experience and has engendered a wish to learn more. However, not all cases inspire the confidence one would wish to have in a positive tenure decision. In recent years, I think, tenure has been awarded to some candidates who did not meet the standards that we should expect and demand. In some cases, the University Promotion and Tenure Committee did not reach the same conclusion as I did, but the split affirmative votes of 12-11 or 13-10 do not elicit my long-range confidence that the candidate will be a productive member of the faculty.

Sometimes I have a sense that the earlier recommendations for tenure by the department and/or school or college have been of the "courtesy" type.

That is, the individual was a very nice person who had worked hard and been a good citizen in the department, and the unpleasantness of a negative vote is an unhappy experience. Collegiality, and even personal friendship, are important, but they cannot stand alone and must be viewed in relation to performance of duties and fulfillment of the university mission.

These folders often include comments like "a fine teacher" and "always there for students," although the research is "a little weak." Yet, should we not expect the first two statements to apply to almost every candidate, and the last to none? The tenure decision is not whether or not the person has been a hard worker, a good departmental citizen, a popular and even excellent teacher, or a good friend. It is about whether or not the candidate has met the criteria for tenure and promotion in a research university, and as our mission statement says, that means in both teaching and research. A candidate weak in either teaching or research should be denied.