Skip to content Skip to navigation

Is Post-Tenure Review Worth It?

Tomorrow's Academy

Message Number: 

Overall the purpose was worthwhile-it gave more understanding of how peers viewed work; it enhanced communication and understanding. It keeps people on their toes and eliminates suspicion of deadwood; and it helps individuals think about his/her role in the department and contributes to strategic mission.


The posting below looks at faculty and administrators' views on post-tenure review. It is from Chapter 3, Faculty and Administrator Views About Post-Tenure Review Practices: Qualitative Findings, in Post-Tenure Faculty Review and Renewal III: Outcomes and Impact, by Christine M. Licata, Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and Joseph C. Morreale, Pace University, With special contribution by Estela Mara Bensimon. AAHE Published in association with the American Association for Higher Education. Anker Publishing Company, Inc., 563 Main Street, P.O. Box 249, Bolton, MA 01740-0249 USA [] Copyright © 2006 by Anker Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. ISBN 1-882982-90-8


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Theories and Models of Student Change in College

Tomorrow's Academy

------------------------------------- 1,712 words ---------------------------------------------

Is Post-Tenure Review Worth It?

When asked whether the post-tenure review process was worth the time and effort required, there was not a majority response in one direction or the other. In fact, survey respondents were almost evenly divided between saying it was worth the effort (36%), feeling it was too soon to know (27%), and stating it wasn't worth the effort (37%). Interview data revealed the same type of three-way split in three instructions. In the other five, two were clearly negative in their assessment of worth, and three were clearly more positive than negative.

Stakeholders across institutions who told us they believed the process was worthwhile generally felt that post-tenure review should be continued. However, these same constituents frequently added specific areas needing modification. The opposite was true in the case of those who saw no worth to the process. These faculty and administrators, although a minority, were usually ready to scrap the process completely. A third group, those on the fence, who needed more time to formulate an opinion or expressed a wait-to-see attitude wanted to reserve judgment until another review cycle occurred.

Some commented that while post-tenure review had not been of benefit to them personally, they realized that it might be a useful process because it helped their institution demonstrate accountability and compliance with external mandates. So while the process didn't carry direct benefit on an individual basis, many were convinced of its symbolic worth.

In at least five of the eight institutions, stakeholders talked about the evolving nature of the process at their own university and noted that while in theory post-tenure review may be a laudable idea, as practiced, it needed improvement. Though the numbers were small, there were faculty and administrators on every campus who were opposed to post-tenure review regardless of the political or symbolic benefit that might accrue from it. Three views were most often voiced:

* Keep post-tenure review as it.

* Retain it, but make modifications.

* Scrap it completely.

Keep Post-Tenure Review in Its Current Form

The reasons for wanting to keep the process in its current form were varied and ranged from feeling personal satisfaction to evoking resignation that it is just the cost of "doing business in today's accountability climate."

Positive personal worth. Those who saw worth in the process sometimes held this opinion because of a positive personal experience either as a member of a review committee or because of their own review experience:

Overall the purpose was worthwhile-it gave more understanding of how peers viewed work; it enhanced communication and understanding. It keeps people on their toes and eliminates suspicion of deadwood; and it helps individuals think about his/her role in the department and contributes to strategic mission.

-Faculty Member, University C

Yes, I think it is a good compromise and should be kept at this current level of effort. I don't think it should escalate to make it a lot more onerousŠI think to keep it around this level at a dull roar is a good thing, because I think it has some positive effect at least. I'm giving a pat on the back for people to say what they have accomplished over five years and because it does add a little more incentive to the work of the academic enterprise.

-Faculty Member, University G

I think that the overall majority would not consider it [post-tenure review] a bad policy or be in favor of doing away with it. They might differ in terms of how much it helped them out.

-Chancellor, University C

Yeah it is worth itŠthe review is needed because one weak link can't be supported in today's fiscal environment.

-Faculty Member, University D

Forestalls external intrusion. Chairs often attributed some benefits to the process, even when their faculty didn't. As a group, deans and other senior-level administrators most often said that despite process shortcomings, post-tenure review served a useful purpose on the internal and external levels. The cost/benefit analysis was described in the following way by one chairperson:

Šwhen you are looking at your benefit and cost, you have got three parties to check: (1) The faculty member who is going through the review-I think the benefits there outweigh the costs, and the principal benefit is that if the faculty member is productive, he gets guidance in terms of what would lead him to being productive. (2) The second entity is the department, and the benefits there, I think, outweigh the costs. The benefit is that the faculty members start to see what the others are doing. A lot of times they don't know what John, two doors down, is doing because it doesn't come up over a lunch conversation. So you start to see some synergism created, a little bit of joint authorship, discussions of different teaching techniques because they see what the other has done. The cost there is obviously the department committee time. (3) And then the third party is the chair, and for me it is beneficial because it keeps my productive faculty happy. It keeps the ones that have to upgrade less anxious than before because they have a sense of what they are doing. And the cost is negligibleŠBut the overriding benefit to me from post-tenure review is that post-tenure review is going to forestall the legislature from trying to eliminate tenure. And if there is no other reason to do it, that is the baseline for me.

-Chairperson, University A

Accountability enhancer. Many referred to the indirect benefit the policy made in demonstrating accountability and for that reason alone wanted to keep the process in place:

It may be worth it [in terms of how much we gained and spent]. Probably wouldn't. If you put it in another sense, though, and that is the amount of responsibility and credibility to a public that doesn't understand what we do or doesn't believe what we do it right, then you come up with an intangible value that I don't know how you calculateŠ

-Dean, University G

ŠI think if we were to stop doing it, the consequences would be worse.

-Senior Administrator, University B

More damage can be done by banning tenure than by going through PTR [post-tenure review].

-Faculty Member, University H

Useful in "some" circumstances. Because the tangible results from the reviews varied dramatically among departments in every institution, some wanted to keep it only for those "exceptional" circumstances:

I am not willing at this point to say this is wonderful or this is terrible. I suspect that it will probably be neither, but, something more in-between. Certainly useful in some cases.

-Faculty Member, University H

No pain. Some faculty, chairs, and deans said that because it didn't require an overwhelming amount of effort, the process was worth it:

We don't put much effort into it, so it is worth it.

-Chairperson, University G

Need time to reap full benefit. In some instances, administrators who reflected on the process in relationship to its potential commented that after faculty have been through it once and realize that demons are not present, they begin to explore how the process can be transformative:

ŠWhat I think we're seeing is people now becoming more reflective about it. We got through this, the first five years, you know. We soft-peddled it purposefully and people have gotten rid of their sea legs and they are feeling more secure. And they know that the administration's not going to use these reviews in arbitrary ways. And not I'm hearingŠpeople saying, now, it's time to revisit what we're doingŠand see if there aren't things that different schools could learn from each other about how they are doing it [post-tenure review] and what their experiences are.

-Senior Administrator, University G

Maintain Post-Tenure Review, but Make Changes

Many faculty, chairs, and deans recognized that in theory post-tenure review could serve a useful purpose. What triggered discontent was the lack of attention to follow-through and the lack of clout to make the processes worthwhile:

Well, in the abstract it does seem to serve a useful purpose to have each person looked at every five years, and I think we all do understand that there are expectationsŠSo I guess my conclusion is that there is value in the post-tenure process, if it were handled properly. But then more important is [to] put some teeth into the process so that if deficiencies are found, some consequences followŠincluding termination.

-Faculty Member, University B

The number of recommendations for ways to improve and strengthen the process were significant and are summarized later in this chapter.

Scrap Post-Tenure Review

Faculty and academic administrators who said adamantly post-tenure review was not worth it came principally from two campuses (University E and University I), which were experiencing problems in implementation. These constituents asserted that the reviews were not worth the time and effort. Some believed the process increased stress and caused low morale, and some said it duplicated other reviews:

I would rather live with a poor performer in the department than trust administrators to do post-tenure review.

-Faculty Member, University E

I felt I didn't need itŠWe have a range-some superstars and some who aren't adequate-but no one is inadequate or in need of counseling or a reprimand. I think the informal methods of keeping the tribe members in line would work just as well as a formal evaluation procedure.

-Faculty Member, University F

Waste of time.

But for senior faculty it's very hard to change themŠthey feel fairly secure in what they're doing. They feel that the sanctions are not that onerous if they get a bad reviewŠSo, I don't really see it as having that much benefit."

-Faculty Member, University G


Faculty and administrators on six of the eight campuses saw varying degrees of worth in the process. It ranged from talking about worth on a very personal level, seeing worth because others needed to be prodded, and identifying worth for accountability purposes.

While fewer in number, those pushing for dismantling post-tenure review saw no worth because they felt it was duplicative of other reviews and a waste of time.

One important theme that made its way into this discussion centered on the need to experience more time with the review process in order to determine overall worth.