October 22, 2004

Avoiding Common Mistakes in the Tenure or Promotion Process:
Suggestions for Administrators from the Judicial Committee


This memorandum is a revision of an earlier document promulgated by the Judicial Committee. It is intended to help Administrators in their capacity as reviewers of probationary faculty and in cases of tenure or promotion. It provides suggestions, based upon the collective experience of members of the Judicial Committee, to help avoid what have been common mistakes in the past, especially regarding tenure. It is not, however, an official University document and therefore should not be treated as if it were a statement of official University rules or policies.

To assure a fair process and to help avoid Judicial Committee hearings, follow the appropriate guidelines and procedures in governing documents, especially Procedures for Reviewing the Performance of Probationary Faculty (available from the Office of Human Resources on its web page) and the regulations in Faculty Tenure (available from the Judicial Committee or the Tenure Committee on their web pages). Also, appropriate constitutions and official, written guides to this process (of Colleges, Departments, or units) should be consulted.

As a general matter, it is important that similarly situated faculty members are treated in a similar fashion—that is, the procedures and standards should be applied consistently. It is also wise to keep careful written records of all actions taken in matters of tenure and promotion. Should questions about procedures arise, administrators should seek clarification from the offices of the Deans of the Colleges, the Office of Human Resources, or the offices of Senior Administrators before taking action.


Assistance for Administrators

Follow all procedures, as specified in governing documents. Remember that even small procedural errors matter and can add up. Remember, also, that complaints before the Judicial Committee usually turn upon questions of procedure, and the fairness and judiciousness with which they are followed.

Identify a member of the faculty or an individual on the academic support staff who will be responsible for knowing all of the details of the promotion and tenure process in order to assist administrators in following all the required steps.

Since the head or chair of the unit is responsible for compliance with procedures at the unit level, he or she should work closely with the designated faculty or staff member to assure that procedural irregularities are avoided.

Planning for the Process

Many units, especially those which are large, have found it helpful to establish a committee – often called the Promotion and Tenure Committee – to consider the cases of candidates for tenure or promotion.

Develop a checklist of tasks, with deadlines that provide ample time for their completion, and distribute it to the candidate, as well as to all faculty and staff involved in the process, including the unit’s Promotion and Tenure Committee, if there is one.

Remember that recommendations should be based upon materials in the written record and the candidate’s response, if any.

Mentoring the Candidate

Identify a faculty member (or a mentoring committee) to be available to the candidate to answer questions about the tenure or promotion process and to help assemble the candidate’s file.

Provide information (especially before the final review) so candidates understand the process.

Make no oral or written promises or assurances concerning tenure or promotion that cannot be kept.

Annual Evaluation of the Candidate

Annual evaluations of the candidate constitute an important part of the tenure or promotion process. They need to be made in written form and kept in the unit’s record of the candidate.

Meet with the candidate – especially important for probationary faculty – in a timely manner to provide a candid written and oral account of his or her strengths and weaknesses, moving toward the tenure or promotion decision.

Provide the candidate – especially important for probationary faculty – with a written copy of the evaluation. Also, record dates and times that the review was discussed with the candidate. Remember that the candidate has the right to put on record his or her response to the evaluations.

Preparation of the Candidate’s File

The mentor or mentoring committee should aid the candidate in preparing the tenure file.

Complete files in a timely manner so they can be reviewed by all faculty (including those voting absentee) before the meeting in which discussion of candidates or voting will occur.

Letters of evaluation constitute an important part of the tenure or promotion process. Determine and clearly communicate to all relevant parties: (a) who will select the evaluators (some are usually chosen or suggested by the candidate), (b) how many of them will be selected, and (c) what materials will be provided to them.

If the unit has a Promotion and Tenure Committee, it should evaluate the candidate’s performance, as well as the letters of evaluation and materials presented by the candidate, and it should produce a written recommendation regarding tenure or promotion with detailed reasons. In case there is not unanimous agreement by members of the committee, the committee should provide both majority and minority reports. The candidate should have sufficient time to respond to the recommendation before it is brought to the faculty of the unit or forwarded to the next level.

Procedures for the Faculty Meeting

Give timely notice of the faculty meeting at which the vote is to be taken so all faculty can plan to attend.

Clarify how absentee ballots may be cast (see Procedures, Item 15) and advise the faculty sufficiently in advance of the meeting so that those who need absentee ballots can secure them.

Consult the unit’s constitution and especially the “Departmental Statement” (required by section 7.12 of Faculty Tenure) that specifies indices and standards for evaluating candidates, and follow it precisely.

Conduct the discussion at the faculty meeting so voting faculty are free to express their views at sufficient length about both strengths and weaknesses of the candidate’s file.

Call attention to the report written by the unit’s Promotion and Tenure Committee, if there is one.

Write the report of the meeting so that majority and minority positions are fairly described (if the vote is not unanimous) and so that reasons for the decision are clear. The department head should also prepare a statement of agreement or disagreement with the unit’s recommendation, including the reasons for any disagreement.

The candidate should have sufficient time to respond to the unit’s recommendation and the department head’s statement before they are forwarded to the next level.

Voting at the Faculty Meeting

Ballots must be written, unsigned, and secret. Proxy or telephone votes are not permitted.

Many units have found it beneficial to count only those ballots that were cast during or before (that is, absentee ballots) but not after the faculty meeting. If units choose to allow balloting (including absentee balloting) after the faculty meeting, they should be clear about what is or is not fair or appropriate communication between voting members, and apply this standard consistently.

Preparation for the College Promotion and Tenure Committee Meeting

Provide the candidate with the report of the unit meeting. Also provide any separate reports from the unit head or individual faculty (if any) in sufficient time for the candidate to respond, if he or she wishes.

Forward the report of the unit meeting, any separate reports, the candidate’s response (if any), and the completed file to the College Promotion and Tenure Committee.

Role of the Dean

All parties should know that the Dean, while guided by the decision reached by the College Promotion and Tenure Committee, makes an independent recommendation on the candidate’s appropriateness for tenure or promotion.

The Dean’s report should provide clear and meaningful reasons for his or her recommendations.

The candidate should have sufficient time to respond to the Dean’s recommendation before it is forwarded to the next level.

Role of the Senior Administrator

All parties should know that the senior administrator may decide contrary to the recommendation of the Dean, on the basis of his or her own evaluation of the candidate’s record.

If the senior administrator acts contrary to the recommendation of the academic unit that made the initial recommendation on tenure or promotion, he or she must provide “substantive reasons” for the decision to the faculty member, members of the academic unit that made the recommendation, and the President (in accordance with section 7.63 of the Regulations concerning Faculty Tenure).