The University Record, April 3, 1995
Junior faculty briefed on the how-tos of tenure
By Rebecca A. Doyle
The tenure review process, says Provost Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr., "is a long series of human judgments using objective evidence. It is not perfect by any means."
"We try to take both the individual and the institution into consideration when making the decision whether or not to award tenure."
Whitaker's remarks were addressed to approximately 75 junior faculty members who gathered on a Saturday morning late last month to learn the ins and outs of the quest for tenure.
Whitaker and Paul Courant, professor of public policy and of economics; Phoebe Ellsworth, professor of psychology and of law; and Noreen Clark, chair, Department of Health Behavior and Education, each gave their views on the process, the philosophy and history of tenure in a university setting.
During their presentations, each tried to address specific questions junior faculty had submitted in advance. Questions about how much time should be devoted to service, what department chairs look for in teaching, how much research is enough to attain tenure and how to select someone for a letter of recommendation were addressed as much as possible in presentations. Other questions were discussed in small groups.
Courant talked about the importance of external evaluation of faculty members' work.
"To get tenure, it is vital to have external verification that your work is good. Send your papers out," he said. He also spoke about interdisciplinary work, noting that it is very hard to evaluate since there are few who could judge the value in both fields of study.
"You need to do something different from 'pretty good' work, to establish something different from either individual field," he noted.
Courant also said that there is a personal aspect of tenure evaluation that is unpleasant and sad, and that never quite goes away.
"Instead of being your friends, now your colleagues are evaluating you. And you, in turn, may evaluate them. As a faculty member, a large part of your job is reviewing, making judgments. That is the structure in the academy, and it is not going to go away."
Ellsworth said that the most-asked question was "What do I have to do to get tenure?"
"There are no five magic steps I can tell you," she said. "Remember that you are an evaluator with students, and this is the same as if they said to you, 'What do I have to do to get an A+?' "
She urged junior faculty to ask questions in their departments and stressed that it was important they get feedback on teaching and scholarly activities early.
"It may be hard to accept feedback on the quality of your work, but it's important," she said. "Don't just ask your friends what they think."
Clark talked about funding for research, the need to demonstrate the researcher's contribution to science and capability in scientific communication.
In the peer review process, she said, "it is crucial to take your idea and show them the priority of your work."
"It is vital to be able to take an idea and show how it is relevant and valuable to the funding source and it's values."
Clark applauded University programs that financially assist junior faculty in developing projects. Her own project, she said, began with seed funds from the Office of the Vice President for Research and has yielded results worthy enough to garner significant external funding.
Clark also emphasized the value of building a network through professional associations and societies.
Whitaker acknowledged the importance to faculty of being tenured, but noted that it is a major commitment for the University.
"When tenure is offered and accepted, it could be for a very long time. The University is betting on you staying intellectually alive for that time. It is a forecast that you will continue to grow intellectually, and it is vital to the Uni-versity that you do that.
"We want people to do creative and risky things," Whitaker said, "but sometimes I think we drive it right out of them with this process."
Faculty members sometimes pay so much attention to doing what they think is expected of them to gain tenured positions that they miss enjoying student contact or a research project that would mean more to them, he said.
"Don't get so caught up in one goal that it is a painful thing every day,"
Whitaker advised. "Tenure is not the beginning or end of life. It may be a milepost, but it is not the most important thing in life. Enjoy your work, the students and your stay at Michigan."
Participants also heard from deans and chairs about unit-specific promotion procedures. Lorris Betz and David Davison from the Medical School, John Chamberlin from LS&A, Bob Johnson from the College of Architecture and Urban Planning, William Martin from the College of Engineering, Kent Syverud from the Law School and Lisa Tedesco from the School of Dentistry met with small groups of faculty to discuss specific expectations in their areas.
The forum was organized by the Office of Academic Human Resources and co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Center for the Education of Women and the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs.