Reviewing the rules of tenure appeal

The recently renewed faculty discussion about the tenure appeals process has shed light on the benefits and flaws of the system and has led to several proposed changes. However, what was not proposed but has been heavily discussed among faculty is the lack of relevant information available to appellants during the appeals process, including letters from outside reviewers and departmental tenure recommendations of candidates. While this issue may seem far removed from the purview of students, the outcome of any tenure decision nonetheless impacts the student body.

There are merits to both sides of the argument at hand: Having more information available to appellants during the process could put them on more solid footing in asserting either inadequate or improper consideration for tenure. However, equipping an appellant with information such as whether his department vouched for him may lead to tension within our small community of faculty. It may even lead reviewers to temper their assessments, knowing that what they say could now be traced back to them.

As the faculty goes forward in discussing the tenure appeals process, what should be kept at the forefront is the purpose of the tenure system: to ensure that we at the College have a wealth of outstanding professors who value teaching and scholarship. With this goal in mind, we believe faculty who are denied tenure and lose their appeal should be presented with relevant review materials prior to their departure from the College. This would ensure that the faculty member is equipped with tangible suggestions on how to improve his or her teaching in a future professorial position, even if it is not at Williams. There is no harm, but only benefit, in providing a departing member of the Williams community with such information.

While tensions may arise with the sharing of review information during the appeals process, perhaps looking more closely at yearly departmental reviews for tenure-track faculty might alleviate some of that tension. Faculty members who support increased transparency within the tenure appeals process should look to the existing annual review system to fill that need: While it may be too uncomfortable to give appellants total access to their review materials, perhaps that feedback can be garnered from previously-held reviews. We encourage faculty and their departments to critically examine and, if necessary, bolster and strengthen their emphasis on this review process so that there will be more understanding – and less shock – involved when colleagues do go up for tenure consideration.

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