Abel has a thoughtful post on the horrific faculty meeting shooting at University of Alabama Huntsville this past Friday. New information seems to come out every few hours on the shooter, Dr. Amy Bishop, a biologist at the university who had been denied tenure, and I’m nowhere near ready to weigh in on the particulars of the case (at least, not with anything smarter than my viscera). But I do want to say just a little on a pair of questions Abel posed in his post:
- Do you think that lack of collegiality is grounds for denial of tenure for a candidate that otherwise meets the basic quantitative criteria outlined in university guidelines?
- Do you feel that collegiality – or whatever you want to call it: teamwork, cooperation – should be an important factor in making academic tenure decisions?
I don’t think tenure candidates ought to be judged on their sparkling personalities, their perkiness, their ability to play straight-man for the department chair’s jokes, or their willingness to go out drinking with senior colleagues on a regular basis. A job evaluation that boiled down to a junior high-style popularity contest would be a very bad thing.
However, no faculty member is an island. Doing the business of a department, a college, and a university frequently involves working well with others. If a tenure candidate is unwilling or unable to work well with colleagues when that’s what is needed, all the big grants, impressive publications, and teaching awards in the world won’t matter to the colleagues who are carrying her weight or, worse, butting heads with her.
People smart enough (in terms of both intellect and wisdom) that you’d want to be colleagues with them for 20 or 30 years are not going to happily grant tenure to someone who is an absolute pain in the ass, who shirks shared responsibility, or who poisons morale in your department.
Of course, establishing concrete criteria for this kind of baseline collegiality is tricky. Then again, it’s not always easy to discern from written tenure criteria exactly what level of research or teaching prowess will put you “above the line” either. And, I fully understand worries that to squishy a notion of collegiality might be misused so as not to tenure candidates who are “not our kind, dear” (or to tenure those who are better at schmoozing than at teaching or publishing).
Still, tenure is not like the SATs or even a report card. It is not a reward you automatically earn by getting a high enough score on each of the pieces of your professional profile being graded, and it is definitely not a medal in an individual event. The ability to work with your colleagues is part of the job. If there’s reason to believe you can’t (or won’t) do that part of the job, then it’s in no one’s interests to lock you into that job for a lifetime.