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As time begins to tick on a full-time instructor’s tenure clock, the expectations for research, teaching and service are constantly present as the main principles evaluated during the tenure review process. These expectations vary significantly across disciplines, as tenure review is one of the most “unit-specific” procedures that affect faculty at the University of Michigan. 

Research expectations for faculty in the largest of the University’s schools — Literature, Science and the Arts — are as varied as the disciplines taught. The Michigan Daily looked into how these expectations are quantified, as well as how they factor into the tenure review process. 

According to the University faculty handbook, faculty’s research contributions are evaluated on the quality of their published work, the range of their intellectual interests, their training of graduate and professional students and participation in professional associations. 

The general tenure timeline begins when a faculty member is hired as a full-time instructor, according to the faculty handbook. In LSA there are pre-tenure mentoring and review processes, with the most substantial pre-tenure review occurring no later than during a faculty members’ third year. This is also when they can submit research and teaching statements and receive feedback from a pre-tenure review committee. At the end of a faculty members’ fifth year of employment, they typically submit their promotion application for tenure. 

Kwasi Ampene, professor in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, explained that the expectations of research publications are made clear to every faculty hire at the University, since publications are a representation of the University’s standing.

“(In) your hiring letters and everything, they will spell it out for you that in order to get tenure, you have to publish,” Ampene said. “Disseminating your research among your peers so that your peers can validate it, that’s the only way that (the) University will also know that what you’re doing is recognized.”

Chris Poulsen, LSA associate dean for natural sciences, told The Daily that natural science departments often have expectations for external research funding, though they vary across the specific disciplines. 

“When we think about the external funding, we think of that as being part of the research portion of the portfolio,” Poulsen said. “Is the faculty member bringing in the amount of funding that they need to do that work?”

Ann Miller, professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, said grant funding is definitely important to the tenure review process. 

“In our field, having a major grant from the NIH or NSF is pretty much an expectation at tenure time,” Miller said. “And if you have additional funding from private foundations, that’s great, as well.”

Poulsen also said that the faculty’s number of peer-reviewed articles and citations are metrics taken into account for tenure review, though there are no set numbers that they must produce. 

“In the natural sciences, our productivity, our output, is mostly peer-reviewed journal articles, and so in the natural sciences, that’s something that we evaluate candidates for,” Poulsen said. “We look at the number of publications, the quality of those publications, and then we look at how many citations they may have.”

LSA Chemistry Professor Brian Coppola said he thinks tenure deliberations focus more on the impact of a faculty member’s work than the medium and number of publications. 

“You can write books, you can write articles, but did your boat go through the water and leave a wake?” Coppola said. “Can you point to something that says you have made a difference? This is an intelligent way to think about it because it relieves committees and people, including the candidates, of the burden of counting stuff.” 

Miller added that only counting papers is not sufficient to determine the impact of a given faculty members’ research.

“Publishing several papers is certainly important, but you also have to look at other factors,” Miller said. “What journal it was published in, how much buzz it generated or how much it’s been cited.” 

Citations in STEM-related fields have been found to be heavily biased. Articles written by women generally receive significantly fewer citations than those with male lead authors. A recent U-M study found that Black researchers are more than two times less likely to receive funding than white researchers. 

Poulsen said that because those biases are so present in academia, they are very careful when using metrics like citations, funding and publications in tenure review, and they avoid comparing metrics across different fields. 

“We do training every single year and we bring up the ways in which there is a bias that can creep into citations,” Poulsen said. “We’re very, very careful when we use any of these metrics because there is opportunity for bias.”

For faculty in the social sciences and humanities, research expectations at the time of tenure review can differ from those of STEM faculty, according to Poulsen. 

Allison Alexy, associate professor in the Departments of Women’s and Gender Studies and Asian Languages and Cultures, described the divide between “book fields” and “article fields.”

“There are some disciplines or departments where the most common way to share your research findings and analysis in your field is through articles versus books,” Alexy said. “In my case, I am in a book field, which means that … a tenure file is stronger if it includes a book.”

David Potter, professor in the Department of Classical Studies, also talked about the emphasis on books and publications over funding and citations in the tenure review process for his field. 

“You need at least one book and a number of peer-reviewed articles, everything has to be peer-reviewed, and have evidence that the first book you wrote isn’t going to be the last book you wrote,” Potter said. 

Ampene explained that he takes issue with the heavy weighting of single authorship in humanities disciplines and said works with multiple authors are often not given as much credit compared to that of just one.

“A lot of people go to societies, outside the Western world, outside the United States, outside Western Europe, and they claim authorship and claim expertise,” Ampene said. “Whereas they learn everything from people who are really the experts.”

Alexy explained that her research, which involves families, gender and law in contemporary Japan, doesn’t rely on the multi-million dollar grants that other disciplines need, but funding can still carry significant weight in the evaluation of research.

“My research is much cheaper and less expensive to do,” Alexy said. “The reason that getting external grants can be really important is that (it) signals (that) an outside committee reviewed your research proposal or your projects and they can tell that the project is worth funding.”

Poulsen confirmed that citations metrics are given less weight in the humanities fields, while funding requirements vary based on the type of research a faculty member is conducting. 

“For humanities, the expectation is usually a book and not peer-reviewed publications,” Poulsen said. “There is a growing amount of public scholarship, public presentations and things like that, so there are some nontraditional methods of scholarship, and we would value those as much as we do a book.”

Miller said of the three considerations for tenure — research, teaching and service — research is the most important, while teaching is also weighed heavily.

“Both the research and teaching parts are really scrutinized in our department,” Miller said. “The service aspect is deemphasized as long as you’re meeting expectations.”

Poulsen said teaching assignments are done in each department and departmental expectations are taken into account when individual faculty members are evaluated for tenure.

“We look for the fact that they have taught during their pre-tenure years, we look at the quality of the teaching, and the quantity, in the sense that they taught the load that they were supposed to teach,” Poulsen said.

Potter said that in the Department of Classical Studies, faculty members’ teaching ability is evaluated through a combination of student evaluations, sample syllabi and faculty classroom visitations, with emphasis on the faculty evaluations, which are required to go into a tenure review file.

“By and large the people we hire are here, in part, because they expect to be teaching,” Potter said. “We would never tenure somebody because they were a good teacher — we might deny them tenure if they were appalling.”

Each department keeps records of student teaching evaluations which are submitted as part of faculty members’ promotion dossiers when they apply for tenure, according to Poulsen. These should represent all of the courses they have taught.

Coppola said that in the Chemistry Department, the general practice is for faculty to have taught at the large introductory class level and the graduate course level. He also emphasized the importance of student teaching evaluations.

“The practice has been that a person really needs to achieve at the introductory level or people get worried that they will not be successful,” Coppola said. “The end of the term evaluations are not the only source of information, but they are absolutely part of the package and you want those to be positive.”

Miller shared her own experience with a pre-tenure review panel (PTRP) and said they encouraged strategic paper writing and publishing.

“For me personally, sometimes the PTRP encouraged getting some papers out faster than I wanted,” Miller said. “I felt like waiting to let my research develop a little more though so I could publish it in a higher-tier journal. As a pre-tenure person, I had to decide strategically for myself what made sense or not.”

The full tenure review process begins at the department level, with each department’s tenure review panel (TRP) made up of three to four faculty members, according to Poulsen.

“The TRP writes a report, they make a recommendation, the candidate actually sees that report and responds to it,” Poulsen said. “Then the TRP makes a recommendation to the department, the department votes, that vote is then submitted to the college.”

Typically a department’s voting body is made up of all faculty of the associate or full professor rank, though in larger departments there are smaller voting bodies, Poulsen said. 

Potter explained that in smaller departments where all faculty have received similar training, it is easier to understand the research experience of a colleague and vote on their promotion based on their submitted teaching and research statements.

“Classics is unusual in the humanities in that most people share a certain basic level of training in the languages, etc,” Potter said. “So you should be able to understand your colleagues’ work, even if you don’t work specifically in that area.”

After the departmental vote is submitted to an LSA panel for review, these panels make recommendations to the LSA executive committee, made up of six elected faculty members, who vote on each case. Based on that vote, a faculty members’ application can get submitted to the Office of the Provost and eventually the Board of Regents. 

Many faculty members agreed that the extent of preparation required to obtain tenure in the typically allotted time, five years, creates a sense of constant awareness. 

“Being on the tenure track is so fundamental to anyone’s sense of the job, that it would be very, very hard not to be aware of that,” Alexy said. 

Ampene explained that many faculty members say “you publish or you perish.” He added that while it is important to meet the University’s standard for research and publication, research should be purposeful.

“If what I’m doing is just to write something and then we put it on the shelves in the library, and no one reads it, then I’m not advancing humanity,” Ampene said.

Many professors claim the main benefit of tenure is having the freedom to pursue their academic interests and dedicate as much time to them as they deem necessary. 

“The freedom to pursue whatever it is you want … is absolutely embedded in the back of your mind with the idea that you have a tenured position,” Coppola said. “The work I decide to do for myself is limitless.”

Daily News Editor Hannah Mackay can be reached at mackayh@umich.edu. Daily Staff Reporters Nadir Al-Saidi and Ashna Mehra can be reached at alsaidin@umich.edu and ashmehra@umich.edu.