My own tenure experience had a similar thrill injected into it when our new administration took up the torch of raising standards and unilaterally created new standards for tenure.
When assistant professors talk about the ever more stringent standards for winning tenure, one of the favorite metaphors is of colleges “raising the bar.” At Baylor University, assistant professors who came up for tenure this year believe that not only did they face a higher hurdle, but they were forced to jump while blindfolded.
That’s because, several university officials said, senior administrators have come to believe that departmental standards were not rigorous enough and so applied new standards, which have never been shared with faculty leaders, let alone with those who submitted tenure portfolios under the old standards. Largely as a result, tenure denials at Baylor this year — which have been about 10 percent annually in recent years — shot up to 40 percent.
Twelve of the candidates were denied tenure this year, and while some are always denied, two statistics are raising particular concern at the university:
- Nine of the 12 rejected candidates had the support of both their departments and the universitywide faculty committee that reviews candidates after the departmental evaluation. In the past at Baylor, it has been rare for the president to overturn recommendations that had solid backing at all the levels of faculty review.
- The rejection rate was particularly high for women. Of the nine women up for review, six were rejected.
Matt Cordon, chair of the Faculty Senate and a law professor, said that this year’s tenure cases raise significant issues on both fairness and the faculty role in shared governance. “The administration determined that the departments’ standards weren’t enough, but the departments used them, and the tenure candidates used the standards,” he said, adding the no one knew of the new standards until deans reported being told of the change by the president and provost.
In my case, because I had already spent a dozen years teaching and publishing, I was able to meet these new, surprise, tenure standards imposed from above without much additional worry. Others were not so fortunate. Sadly, those of us who could jump over this higher bar have been used as evidence that the new standards are both possible and fair.
What always gets left out of these discussions is how many years of work it actually took to meet those standards. Very few of us had been brand new Ph.D.'s only six years ago.