I’m still a long ways away from worrying about tenure but I would love to see this sort of process when I get there.
Therefore, in my view, any real tenure reform has to address the problem of high-stakes evaluations that are done in private. Secrecy actually permits institutional inequality to thrive, because no one ever “sees” it; alternatively, it allows a larger, skeptical public to believe that a negative tenure decision might be an outcome of prejudice when in fact it has resulted from an honest evaluation of the case. Breaking confidentiality not only forces people to explain why they believe what they believe, it also creates a far more textured picture than probationary faculty currently have of why some people are tenured and some people are not.All of these things are bad for faculty morale over the long term, and they are bad for how a larger public views the tenure system.
- Making all materials in a tenure case available to the candidate.
- Allowing the candidate to respond to questions about hir scholarship that have arisen in the letters and in the departmental discussion.
- Making minority and majority opinions on each case available in some kind of public document.
- Allowing all departmental faculty who have voted in the case to identify themselves to the candidate and explain why they voted the way they did.
Breaking confidentiality would have a generative role in positive tenure cases too, since positive decisions are sometimes weighted down with the baggage of negative votes that have been successfully overcome. These negative votes not infrequently arise from critiques that, although they were not sustained by the majority decision, should not be allowed to disappear either. Candidates inevitably hear rumors about them, but are justified in not taking them seriously because they are conveyed (often inaccurately) by their “friends” and have been articulated by “enemies.” Flaws in scholarship that are not fatal at the level of the monograph might have serious ramifications down the road if they are not addressed, while originality and risk-taking that has been deliberately muted in pre-tenure scholarship so as not to offend could be usefully cultivated in the post-tenure years.