We recently surveyed academic administrators across the United States about how their institutions communicate tenure and promotion expectations to faculty members. In this second installment of the results, we reveal best practices that survey-takers shared with us.

Consider these strategies to ensure that your faculty members know how to achieve their goals.

  • Offer a workshop for new faculty members to help them develop a plan to achieve their scholarship, teaching and service objectives.
  • Be clear about expectations and consequences. For example, differentiate “reviewing articles and books” from “writing articles and books.” Specify how each will be considered during tenure review. And make sure that faculty members know that tenure is granted on the basis of actual achievement, not popularity.
  • Require tenured faculty members to be active in research and service. Otherwise a “do as I say, not as I do” message gets communicated.
  • Determine specifics about what types of research count in tenure and promotion decisions. For example, in disciplines where some faculty members haven’t earned academic doctorates, will the research expectations be the same for them? And if faculty members focus their research on teaching practices rather than on their discipline, how will that work be considered?
  • Make sure your faculty handbook provides comprehensive information. Help new faculty members locate the relevant information.
  • Meet with faculty members at predetermined times, e.g., yearly, after the second and fourth year, or after the third year, to discuss their progress toward attaining tenure. Document the discussion in writing.
  • Train department chairs, deans and evaluators on how to mentor and support faculty members seeking tenure.

Offer a pretenure retreat to share information

Administrators at Stonehill College in Massachusetts thought they clearly conveyed requirements for earning tenure. But not all the junior faculty members agreed, said Joe Favassa, associate vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty.

Officials decided to offer a pretenure retreat to bring the junior faculty together. At first they planned to invite only first-year faculty members to discuss the year they had just completed.

But other junior faculty members wanted to attend as well. And the attendees wanted to focus on the tenure-approval process, Favassa said.

The event, which has become an annual occurrence, is held the day after spring grades are due. That day makes sense because the faculty members are still in town waiting for commencement, but they’re not overly busy, Favassa said. The retreat lasts part of a day with either lunch at the beginning or a cookout at the end.

Two or three volunteers bring in drafts of the personal statement they will provide to the tenure committee. The other faculty members review the statements in groups. The faculty member who wrote the statement explains why he wrote what he wrote, and the others provide feedback on it.

Members of the Rank and Tenure Committee talk about candidates’ actions they have seen that were helpful and those that were not. Their goal is to make the process as transparent as possible, Favassa said.

Each year at the retreat, recently tenured faculty members meet with junior faculty to discuss what they did, the fears they had, and any snags they hit in the process.

The goal is to give the junior faculty members as much information as possible and to clear up any rumors they might have heard, Favassa said.

Also, faculty members divide into groups to eat and discuss specific topics. For example, at the most recent retreat, Favassa met with four or five faculty members in their third year to discuss pretenure review. Another small group discussed how to use course evaluations in a personal statement.

Some of the questions faculty members ask at the retreats are very specific. When questions have been asked repeatedly, Favassa brings them to the attention of the Rank and Tenure Committee members so that they knew what information isn’t clearly conveyed in the policies. Officials have rewritten some policies as a result.

The pretenure retreat has become part of Stone-hill’s culture. Faculty members ask when it will be happening. Besides the information they gain, they like the chance to connect with faculty members in other departments, Favassa said.

And some professors who have attended a retreat and then earned tenure have volunteered to discuss their experiences at future retreats, Favassa said.

Email Joe Favassa at jfavassa@stonehill.edu.