Tenure-track faculty and departmental decision making.

Chad got to this first (cursed time zones), but I want to say a bit about the Inside Higher Ed article on the tumult in the Philosophy Department at the College of William & Mary that concerns, at least in part, how involved junior faculty should be in major departmental decisions:

Should tenure-track faculty members who are not yet tenured vote on new hires?

Paul S. Davies, one of the professors who pressed to exclude the junior professors from voting, stressed that such a shift in the rules would protect them. "If you have junior people voting, they have tenure in the back of their minds, and that would be a motivation to hire someone less impressive than yourself," he said. In any department with disagreements, Davies added, junior faculty members would also have to worry about offending (or would seek to please) the people who would soon vote on their tenure.

Davies also linked his views to a concern about "standards." Davies and George W. Harris, the other philosopher who raised the issue of junior faculty members voting, have charged that the department as a whole is reluctant to push nice people to work harder. The two have also raised questions about whether politics and gender enter in some hiring choices, although they have not restricted those concerns to junior faculty members.

"There has to be a check on conflicts of interest between those doing the hiring and the future of the institution in terms of maintaining or even raising standards when standards are at stake," said Harris. "Here there is no oversight, nor is there in many other places."

I am tenure-track but still untenured (although I hope to be tenured by this time next year), and I would like to offer some reasons for letting junior faculty vote on new tenure-track hires in their department.

  1. Junior faculty are likely to spend more of their careers with the new hires than are their senior colleagues. Chad points this out, and it's true. Unless there's a clear prevailing presumption in the department that junior folks will not have any chance of tenure*, they likely have more years as colleagues with the new hire than will the esteemed senior professor who's only a few years from retirement. So, the junior folks in the department have an interest in selecting a job candidate who will be a good colleague -- committed to teaching and pulling his or her weight on committees, pursuing a research agenda that is interesting and promises to be productive. It's not altogether unlike entering into a marriage -- you're not just looking at the present state of things, but you're projecting into the future.
  2. Junior faculty are likely to spend more hours with the new hire than are their senior faculty. At least in my department, senior faculty appear maybe two or three days a week. Those of us who are on the tenure track are pretty reliably in the department Monday through Friday -- because we know we must be productive to have a good chance of getting tenure. That means we see each other a lot. We talk to each other about matters of pedagogy, we shoot the breeze about developments in the world of philosophy, and we help each other navigate the bureaucracy. In short, our working conditions are affected -- a lot -- by the new hires. (In my department, I think that impact has been for the good.) So junior faculty arguably have a serious stake in sussing out which job applicants will be good at teaching, scholarship, and service, and which will be colleagues who try to be good departmental citizens.
  3. Being aware of (even stressed out about) the standards by which your tenure case will be evaluated does not necessarily turn you into a deck-stacking, back-stabbing sociopath. Having been on search committees here, I can't imagine saying to myself, "Hmmm, let's push for a mediocre candidate so I will appear the more awesome by comparison." Most of what I was saying to myself was, "Wow, look at how smart and accomplished and interesting these candidates are. It would be awesome to have folks like this as part of our department -- how on earth are we going to narrow it down?" And, given #1 and #2, you really do want to hire someone awesome, both for the long-term well-being of your department and so you get to regularly interact with the awesome person you're hiring.

    I'm not saying that there aren't junior faculty out there for whom getting tenure might crowd out every other interest, but I'm guessing that a good bit of the time this is a response to a department where one doesn't feel like an actual member of the community so much as a defendant at a trial.

  4. Direct comparisons between two junior faculty members in the same department may be of the apples-and-oranges variety. Unless the department is huge, it is often the case that hires over a span of a few years are working in quite different research areas and teaching different parts of the department's regular offerings. That's a big reason to have colleagues in the first place -- to divide not only the labor of teaching and committee work, but also the vast intellectual terrain of your field. One result of this is that tenure cases are not decided on the basis of some universal and objective metric of awesomeness, but instead in terms of how distinguished folks are in the niche they have been carving out for themselves. If you're competing with anyone, it's the other people doing scholarship in your area of specialization -- and most of them are working in other departments.

    Comparisons of this sort are a different kind of issue in contexts where a department, say, made three tenure-track hires the same year and decides that it only has enough political capital with the committees beyond the department to get one of those hires tenured -- even if all three are decidedly awesome in their own niches. Since the people in direct competition with each other were hired the same year, though, they don't get to vote on who the other hires are, and the junior faculty voting on these new hires won't be in direct competition with them for the scarce tenure slots.

  5. Learning to articulate your view and to engage effectively and respectfully with senior colleagues who disagree with that view is a vital skill for tenure-track faculty. I can't imagine that six years of keeping your true views completely under wraps makes you feel connected to the departmental community, and I'd worry that after tenure there'd be the possibility of remaining a yes-man for senior colleagues, or maybe even of abandoning your own views not because they are without merit, but simply as a way to "get along".

    If a professional philosopher cannot mount -- or take seriously -- a dispassionate argument about the relative merits of particular job candidates or hiring criteria, then the power disparity between senior and junior colleagues is so great that it needs to be addressed immediately -- before any new hires are dropped into the preexisting snake pit.

  6. Sometimes senior colleagues need a nudge to take junior colleagues seriously. Giving tenure-track faculty who aren't yet tenured a vote in who joins the department means that their interests with regard to the departmental community are given actual weight, rather than becoming some hypothetical consideration for senior faculty. Senior faculty may think they know the interests of their junior colleagues, but even if they are operating with the best of intentions, their best guess is never quite the same as asking the junior colleagues.
  7. Hiring good people who are tenurable helps everyone in a department by reducing the need for search committees. We want keepers -- people with whom we can happily spend our professional lives -- because, frankly, searching is a pain. It takes loads of faculty hours (reading application files, meeting in committee to discuss the materials, conducting interviews, rearranging our schedules to accommodate job talks and teaching demos) and money (to publicize the job, fly faculty to the APA to have preliminary screenings with candidates, to fly candidates to campus for interviews, etc.). It's exhausting. Given that senior faculty know (from experience) more clever ways to dodge committee work (or even just to read applications efficiently) than do junior faculty, junior faculty are especially motivated to conduct successful searches -- and to see success in terms of getting the new hire successfully to the right side of the tenure line.

I'm the first to admit that these reasons are heavily influenced by my own personal experiences, so don't hold back if you'd like to offer counterarguments to any of them.

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Most of what I was saying to myself was, "Wow, look at how smart and accomplished and interesting these candidates are. It would be awesome to have folks like this as part of our department -- how on earth are we going to narrow it down?"


And, when I got selfish, this is what I thought: "Perhaps I can help myself by working together with this awesome person and submitting a collaborative grant, thereby hopefully riding along some coattails to help my own case."

In any event, I'm with the external review committee: the fact that this question is seriously asked is an indication that something is wrong with the department.

Hell, I often feel like we don't take graduate studetns' views too seriously!


As I understand it, most tenure decisions happen after about five years of service so perhaps junior faculty with a minimum of three years of service should have a vote while younger members should not. As with any organization, it takes a couple of years to fully appreciate the personalities and strengths of the other faculty; junior faculty with fewer than three years of service may not be able to make a fully informed decision.

I have served on many faculty hiring committees in the last 22 years, and the junior faculty on the committees and in our department have almost always been the toughest on our candidates. Because the wizened greybeards and the young turks bring different perspectives, it is important to have them both on the search committees.

If the Philosophy Dept. at W&M has already hired junior faculty who are intent on hiring losers as colleagues to make themselves look better, then the department is already doomed. If the senior people even think this is how their junior colleagues would behave, they are still screwed by a complete lack of trust and confidence. How would faculty candidates react when told they would have even less say in the direction of the department than your typical pre-tenure professor?

This seems like a classic bit of projection - this is probably what Davies and Harris would do, so they believe everyone else must think like that, too.

The Philosophy Dept. at William & Mary may be better served by a rule that doesn't let assholes like Davies and Harris vote.

Tenure decisions at some schools have gotten to ten to twelve years. Here at Rockefeller, a professor was just denied tenure in the thirteenth year of operating her lab. I could see giving people a year or two without the committees when they first enter the department, but imagine not being able to vote on additions to the department for a decade.

Janet is 100% correct.
Yet another reason is that, in fast-moving scientific fields especially, the younger faculty are often in a better position to judge the currency and originality of a candidate's research.
I have been part of 3 different departments now (yes, it's a sad tale of woe), and all have solicited opinions & votes from junior faculty (indeed, it's often been junior faculty that did most of the work on the search--they'd better let me vote!). One dept. even let the graduate students cast 3 votes (which I thought was a bit much, but...)

Quick point, in my department at least senior and junior faculty provide feedback, in other words vote. Regardless, it is the chair who makes the decision on hirings, not the outcome of a vote. I expect most departments if not all are not democracies and the voting done, by faculty of any level, grad. students, and the barber down the street are simply ways to help the chair make an informed decision.

That being said, it is ridiculous to not allow junior faculty to provide feedback.

CPP says,

Yet another reason is that, in fast-moving scientific fields especially, the younger faculty are often in a better position to judge the currency and originality of a candidate's research.

Untenured faculty are colleagues and full members of the department. It is silly to exclude them from important decisions like hiring.

However, the idea that junior faculty are in a better position to judge the "currency and originality" of a candidate is ridiculous. In fact, it's often the senior faculty who have the wisdom and experience to recognize good science from bad science and to distinguish fads from quality science.

Senior faculty don't stop doing current original science once they get tenure. Where do you think the candidate post-docs are doing their "current and original" work? Is it the labs of junior faculty members?

Larry Moran: Just because postdocs are working the most creative years of their lives in the lab of a senior person doesn't mean that senior person is "current and original". Said senior person might be coasting on the brains of the young by dint of his/her managerial, schmoozerial and grant-acquisitional skills as opposed to brilliant ideas, technical skill and bench-sweat.

With respect to "senior faculty who have the wisdom and experience to recognize good science from bad science and to distinguish fads from quality science.", this is a common refrain heard in the grant review debate. I say, show me the evidence. I call most emphatic bullshit on categorical stuff like this. In the grant review process these types of statements are typically undefined (good sign of BS) - so what do you mean, specifically. what fads do you abhor and show me where these are being driven exclusively by junior people. define "quality science" in a way that does not include investigator track record, nebulous future predictions or other circular components. Then, once terms are defined, where's the evidence? Senior types are full of anecdotes about the two asst profs in their department- nice and unprovable. Senior types who sit on study section don't talk this schmack anywhere near as much and when they do are hard put to provide specific evidence when questioned by one who sits right there with them in the same rounds.

since the statistics tend to bear out the reality that "senior faculty wisdom and experience" tends to value male-ness, white-ness and child-unburdened-ness over metrics of scientific value, you might as well also address issues of bias. as a good student of human nature and the public policy arena i find assertions of "unbiased" judgment (from anyone) laughable. Our best solutions rely on diversity of the judges to cover the gaps that the law leaves open. Just one more reason to include junior faculty in departmental decisionmaking.