"Tenure Achievement in a Research University"

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September 2006

At the September 27, 2006 Quality Advocates session, Blannie E. Bowen, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Carol L. Colbeck, Director and Senior Research Associate, Center for the Study of Higher Education, and Michael J. Dooris, Director, Planning Research and Assessment, Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment, shared their thoughts about the tenure process.  While Penn State has not solved the challenges of tenure achievement, the university has been proactive about recognizing and working on these issues. In fact, the University’s 2006-07 to 2008-09 strategic plan highlights the importance of “judicious hiring and tenure decisions, faculty development, appropriate rewards, and proactive retention practices” in one of its strategies.  

The Tenure Process

Blannie BowenDr. Bowen shared information on Penn State’s promotion and tenure review process.  HR23 provides the policy, and links to that and additional information can be found at the Vice Provost’s Web site.  Penn State’s process includes reviews at the 2nd and 4th year, while most universities only include a review at the 3rd year.  However, Dr. Bowen recommended yearly discussions with the candidate’s department/division head or director of academic affairs, and encouraged candidates to review their dossier for factual accuracy before it entered the review process.  The dossier includes sections on the scholarship of teaching and learning, research and creative accomplishments, and service to the University, society, and the profession.  Dr. Bowen pointed out the importance of having successful, positive mentors, focusing on teamwork and collaboration, and at the same time remembering that responsibility for earning tenure was up to the individual.

Tenure Achievement Rates

Mike DoorisDr. Dooris provided an overview of research done by the Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment on tenure achievement rates.  Data from 10 large research institutions showed that between 33% and 67% of all tenure track entrants who began in 1997-98 had achieved tenure by 2004-05.  For Penn State, the percentage of those earning tenure, for nine cohorts beginning from 1990 to 1998, was 55%.  Finally, the data showed, for 2004-05, that the percent of departmental reviews forwarded by the colleges to the president was 96%, 86%, and 89%, for 2nd year, 4th year, and 6th year reviews, respectively.

Tenure and Work-Life Balance

Carol ColbeckDr. Colbeck provided an overview of her research with Robert Drago on tenure and work-personal life balance.  The research followed 13 faculty, including those with and without tenure, in English and chemistry departments, and both male and female, for 644 hours during their daily activities to see how they balanced work, family, and personal demands, and what could be learned from these observations about an optimal environment.  As a result of this research, recommendations to move toward this optimal environment were developed for faculty colleagues, department heads, and administrators.   Faculty colleagues are encouraged to provide practical support, through collaboration, co-authoring, and sharing contacts, and to ask about colleagues’ non-work activities.  Department heads are encouraged to share expectations for tenure and promotion regularly, schedule departmental meetings and activities within normal work hours, and be knowledgeable about work-family policies and present them positively.  Administrators are encouraged to reward quality rather than quantity, assess which practices result in the best promotion and tenure rates and expand implementation of those practices, and ensure all are familiar with promotion and tenure and work-life policies.  An article in Change discusses the research.

In a question and answer period after the presentations, Dr. Bowen pointed out that external letters should come from faculty at peer universities, and those universities were not limited to the Big Ten.  Dr. Colbeck discussed the importance of the early 2nd and 4th year reviews to validate those whose performance was on target.  She commented that, while criticism is often very specific, encouragement is often vague, and providers should work to be as specific in praise as they are in criticism.  There was agreement that, as candidates for tenure feel that they are in a race to do as much as possible and always have something else that they can do, the earlier in the tenure process they receive useful feedback, the better.

The Quality Advocates Network meets several times each semester to share ideas and examples of improvement and change. To join the Quality Advocates Network mailing list or to learn more about the meetings scheduled, contact the staff at psupia@psu.edu.

The Quality Advocates Network is open to all Penn State faculty, staff, administrators, and students.