A Few Practical Questions About Tenure

With respect to the evaluation of a candidate for tenure, a couple of sets of practical questions are worth considering by each of us.

Would I be honored to have this person's teaching and scholarship represent me? Would I be honored to have this candidate be the only representative of me and my university that anyone ever sees? These questions must be posed within the framework of reading the candidate's folder.

As faculty members, we may tend to think of our community as our discipline, but most of us would be unable to contribute to our discipline if we were not associated with a university. Our reputations and that of our university are more closely related than sometimes we want to admit. For example, it is more than a little ironic that when we harshly criticize our own university we must also realize that we are criticizing ourselves. In a very real sense, we, the faculty, are our university. We, the faculty, define the curriculum, set the research agenda, decide on the service to the public, and select our colleagues who will help carry out the mission of the university. As faculty we have the responsibility to make changes in any of these areas should such changes become necessary. Essentially, when we criticize our university we are saying that we are not doing the job as it should be done.

If we are not proud of our university, it is in large measure our own fault and our own responsibility to change. In this context the granting of tenure is the most important decision we make because tenure decisions ultimately define the faculty, and the faculty define the university.

Will this tenure decision be a good investment for university funds, for my reputation, and for that of my university? Am I prepared to commit as much as $2,000,000 or more to this candidate for an academic lifetime?

Such monetary concerns are rarely thought of at the time of tenure decisions. However, that amount covers only part of the funds devoted to an individual faculty member who remains at our institution for a significant period of time. The high monetary cost of tenure is one of the reasons why academic units that make negative tenure decisions are not penalized. Indeed, it would be foolish for the administration to place academic units in the position of choosing between losing resources and making a poor investment in a faculty member who does not exemplify the highest standards of performance in teaching, research and service. As I have said many times, any unit that does not recommend an individual for tenure will always keep the position to recruit against later or to convert for other uses. Deans and department chairs must both be aware of my commitment to this principle.