This tenure case is a mess. There’s a lot to sort through—what areas of specialization are recognized by review committees, the weight given to media appearances when it comes to judging a scholar’s success, how tenure candidates read (and maybe misread) personnel recommendations.
Worth taking careful note of:
According to the grievance the candidate filed, each review leading up to his tenure denial had been “stellar,” and “There was no previous indication that my record was deficient in any way…”
If this is true (and I have no reason to believe it’s not), this is a case where a tenure failure is owned by the department and the institution. Depending on the length of time between reviews, it is essential that review committees make as clear as possible a candidate’s progress towards tenure. Even if a tenure review brings in a university committee that may not have seen a candidate’s pre-tenure reviews, it is unethical to drop a tenure denial in this final hour.
And unlike some other tenure applicants in 2012 and in previous years, he said, he was never advised to take an additional, seventh year before applying to strengthen his portfolio. “In fact, my performance in terms of peer-reviewed scholarly publications, teaching and service objectively exceeds that of other faculty members who were recently tenured in my unit and other departments at Georgetown University.”
It is also the job of the candidate to read review letters carefully. I’m convinced that one of the more difficult academic documents to read is the personnel review. It goes too far to call them CYA documents, but they are written in such a way as to protect the institution from future lawsuits. They are meant to send signals without committing to anything that can be pointed to in an appeal, grievance, or lawsuit. Unlike other arenas in the academy where the assessment is clear (particularly in publishing and teaching evaluations), personnel rhetoric wallows in ambivalence.
If you want to see how difficult it is to get consensus about what makes someone a good candidate for tenure, read some of the comments