Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Eight Years on the Tenure Track?

Brown University has extended the time you have to spend on the tenure track to eight years:

The faculty voted to amend the tenure review process and extend the period of time before junior faculty members are nominated for promotion at its Dec. 7 meeting. While the changes themselves were approved, the faculty has yet to vote on the wording of the amendments. The December motions — part of a larger overhaul of the tenure process ­­— were proposed by the Faculty Executive Committee. "Basically what we were trying to do is trying to make the process more transparent, so that the structure is clear," Cynthia Garcia Coll, professor of education and chair of the FEC, said. "We changed some of the timings, so instead of being seven years and you have to come up for tenure, now you know we've added a year, and you can come up for tenure any time you want." Assistant professorship contracts were extended to a maximum of eight total years before junior faculty members are either promoted with tenure or dismissed. The motion also changed deadlines for when candidates for tenure can submit names of potential recommenders, as well as for when departments can finalize who will evaluate assistant professors. The changes were introduced to extend the time for junior faculty to pursue research.
I'm very much in favor of giving junior faculty more time to do research, but this, in my opinion, is simply not the way. A greater number of years on the tenure track does not necessarily mean more publications or even better quality publications. It's like the eternal debate about the amount of time people should be given to complete their doctoral dissertations. I have heard the argument that 9-10 years is the optimal amount of time that a doctoral program should last. This, for me, is completely wrong. In the Humanities, at least, you do not need 10 years to write your dissertation. Even a very rigorous PhD program can be completed in 4 to 5 years. I have seen people who have dragged out the writing of their doctoral dissertation for the better part of a decade, and the resulting work is never all that fantastic.

It's the same with post-dissertation publishing that junior faculty does on the tenure track. People who want to do research and publish will do so anyways. People who need excuses not to publish will use every opportunity to avoid this task that, for them, is unpleasant. Extending the time to 8 years (at my institution it's six, and I feel that even that is too long) will not help those who are not doing enough research. If people have been organizing their professional activities in such a manner that 7 years haven't been enough for them to publish the requisite number of articles, an extra year of doing exactly the same thing will hardly help.

There are much better ways, in my opinion, that would allow universities to help junior faculty members to do more research. Less service obligations for those who have a very impressive and current research agenda, course releases for research projects, leaving people alone in the summer so that they can engage in uninterrupted research for 3 or 4 months of the summer holidays, travel money for research-related trips: these are the improvements that would really help junior faculty members to advance their scholarly publishing.  Giving them an extra year that will be spent in attending to the same service obligations and huge teaching loads that prevented them from doing enough research in the previous 7 years will hardly change anything.


Jonathan said...

Yes, I agree. In my department women (and men) get an extra year with the birth of every child, so the process gets dragged out that way already. I'd be in favor of giving that year to everyone equally to even out the odds, but 8 years is absurd. You should have publication flowing out of the dissertation and then some more during those 6 years.

Clarissa said...

Exactly! I was schooled in the idea that every final essay you submit for your graduate courses should represent a draft of an article for publication. This will leave you with a cache of drafts that can be reworked and submitted for publication as soon as you defend the dissertation.

FD said...

Colour me cynical, but I somehow doubt that this policy change is really intended to help junior faculty achieve tenure.

Anonymous said...

Strongly agree with post although as a slow publisher after about the 4th year post PhD I'll say it's not lack of interest that makes me slow, it's terror: slow down they said at 4th year review, you're making the rest of us look bad, and I was horrified but did, in the name of survival, and I am still trying to recover from the violence I did myself by doing that (and the boredom it causes ... you don't progress as much when you don't write, and everything becomes sort boring).

Anyway I'd be for this: move 4th year review to late in the second, and tenure review to 4th year. Cut down research requirements to fit the time, and expand research opportunities and funding for all. You really can tell by the 2d year if someone is a liability or not, and by the 4th if they're a plus or not. And people know pretty quickly what they think. Might as well act on it ASAP and save everyone some trouble.

Clarissa said...

"Colour me cynical, but I somehow doubt that this policy change is really intended to help junior faculty achieve tenure."

-I know what you mean. That's the very first thought I had when I read these news. But then I didn't want people to tell me again that I'm paranoid.

" slow down they said at 4th year review, you're making the rest of us look bad, and I was horrified but did, in the name of survival, and I am still trying to recover from the violence I did myself by doing that (and the boredom it causes "

-It's scary how similar your and my experiences are.

Jonathan said...

Slowing down is horrible advice. Yes, please publish just the right amount to get tenure, but nothing more because we'll be envious.

Anonymous said...

@J ...we'll be envious, and you'll be employable, so we might have to do a search, oh no. This is sabotaging advice and is also a damned if you do damned if you don't directive if productivity is encoded immediately as a sign of betrayal. "Every hour you spent on that extra article was an hour you could have spent socializing with our donors."

@Clarissa, similar experiences, it is probably a sign that these experiences are endemic but it's more comical to say it's Yale's fault. That administration was rife with Yale men (and Rhodes scholars, too, it taught me to be anti Rhodes scholars).

More importantly: yes, it's clear that this change is not at all intended to help people get tenure, but to save on money / time for searches. Drop them later rather than sooner and have a watertight case, "you had plenty of time."