How much feedback is necessary and important for tenure-earning faculty? Procedures vary quite a bit across the country on how often, and in what form, faculty in a tenure-track position receive feedback on progress towards tenure. According to the Pittsburg State KNEA contract, at a minimum tenure-earning faculty receive a second year letter providing an overall evaluation of their performance during the first couple years and guidance for the next three or four years on expectations for earning tenure. In a number of cases there is no additional “progress towards tenure” report until it is time for the actual decision.
I believe maximum transparency is best, especially in the high-stakes tenure process, and favor a system with annual specific “progress towards tenure” letters from the Department Committee, Chair, and Dean outlining the candidate’s accomplishments to date and providing guidance in areas deemed falling short of adequate progress toward meeting tenure expectations. Annual targeted letters from committees, chairs, and the Dean, each directly involved in the ultimate tenure decision, make it very clear to everyone how a tenure-earning faculty member is progressing. There are no surprises in the end because a paper trail formed with feedback specifically tailored to assessing the candidate’s progress. This approach protects tenure-earning faculty because it is extremely difficult for a department committee or administrator to provide yearly positive feedback and then reach a negative tenure decision. On the other hand, annual feedback protects departments in cases where an underperforming probationary faculty member consistently is informed of areas needing improvement but does not take necessary actions.
The tenure-track process by its very nature is anxiety-producing for both junior faculty and departments/universities. For junior faculty, there are profound implications for career and livelihood. For departments and universities, there is a long-term, often permanent, commitment to continued employment and inclusion. Further, contentious tenure decisions are some of the most unpleasant events in academic life should be avoided if at all possible.
It makes sense that providing annual feedback from all decision-makers is a clear method for both developing life-long productive autonomous colleagues, a primary goal of the tenure-track period, and creating a transparent process, which I believe we continually should strive to achieve in a university context.