Careers: Don't dismiss the third-year review

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Many colleges and universities are now instituting third-year reviews for junior faculty. As a new faculty member you may be told that it is diagnostic or prognostic, that it's preparation for the tenure review, or that there is nothing to worry about because it is just a formality. The first two characterizations are true, the last one isn't -- third year reviews are increasingly being used to weed out junior faculty and you need to approach your third year review with caution.

The genesis of the third year review was that many junior faculty were not well prepared for their full tenure reviews, usually held in their seventh year. The third year review was designed as a mid-term dry-run. Most of the paperwork is the same, only the scale is different. Ideally, you would be told during your third year which areas of your portfolio are weak and where you need to improve.

Many provosts and department chairs will characterize third year reviews as just formalities when you are first hired. You might be told that everyone passes their third year review. This has been true in the past, but I've noticed a disturbing trend in the academy (i.e., not just anthropology) for the third year review to be used to weed out problematic faculty. As a result, you need to approach your third year review seriously and with extreme caution.

What will you be evaluated on? There are usually three or four major categories:

  1. Research: Peer reviewed journal articles and monographs. Book chapters, book reviews, edited volumes, and other non-juried material are weighed less. Many departments will even rank peer-reviewed journals differently.
  2. Teaching: Student reviews. Some departments also use enrollment numbers to gauge popularity -- a dangerous trend in my opinion.
  3. Service: Participation in departmental and college committees. No one is ever retained merely because they put in good service. Lack of service, however, is often used a catch-all gloss for faculty who are not liked by others.
  4. Collegiality: This is a very dangerous category as it basically means that the senior faculty enjoy your company. If your college has this in its Faculty Handbook, you should be very careful not to cause waves until after you have tenure. Not all schools have a collegiality qualification, but if it isn't the senior faculty can usually torpedo you using one of the other categories.

Senior faculty make tenure decisions based on many factors but one thing looms large in their minds: Is this person someone who we can live with for the next 25 years? If the answer is 'yes' then you will get tenure even with weak credentials, but if the answer is 'no' then third year and tenure review will be a struggle even with excellent teaching and research. Although it may go against every principle you hold, if you want tenure, don't piss off the senior faculty.*

If you receive a negative third-year review, unless you've clearly been guilty of poor scholarship or teaching and you agree with the evaluation, my advice is to bail. A negative tenure review is the kiss of death, you want to avoid this at all costs. Take your negative third-year review as a warning shot and leave. It's easier to start anew rather than to hope to try to placate senior faculty sensibilities in your remaining three years.

*It is my theory that it is the mental duress caused by seven years of repressed emotions that causes senior faculty to be so............. Let's just say I'd like tenure so I won't finish this sentence.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on June 4, 2005 1:28 PM.

Photos: Japan Disability Protest 2005.05.12 photoessay was the previous entry in this blog.

Rant: The plateauing of 35mm digital camera sensor quality is the next entry in this blog.

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