Tracy Russo can laugh now that it's over.
"You're sweating bullets," Russo, an associate professor of communication studies, recalled of her application for tenure at Kansas University. "This is your career. If you're not tenured, then essentially you have to leave."
Each year, about 30 KU faculty and librarians undergo the nail-biting tenure process. Most come out on top. Since 2002, an average of 9 percent of applicants have been denied tenure.
A task force is examining KU's promotion and tenure policies, hoping to clarify and improve a process that many say is scary at best.
"We don't think the system is broken in any serious kind of way," said Rick Levy, law professor and chairman of the task force. "But we do think there are ways that it could be made more clear and more accessible to people."
Among the bigger changes on the table is a move to make the process more open to the faculty whose careers are on the line.
For some faculty, once the applications or "blue forms" are submitted, they fall out of the loop. And for months, they may not know much about what is happening.
Applications take months to travel through the various levels before a final decision is made.
"It kind of goes off into the ether and for the next six months you don't hear a lot," said Ruth Ann Atchley, associate professor of psychology and task force member.
Atchley recalled her own situation of going up for tenure.
"It was probably unnecessarily stressful," she said. "Even knowing that I was probably doing fine : it still was unnecessarily stressful to have it be in this black box."
Different schools permit varying degrees of openness as applications move through the channels. What changes KU will make to amend the process are up for discussion.
An open process helps faculty to see what's going on and can go far toward building confidence that the system is equitable, Atchley said.
"We all want people to feel that, yea or nay, it was fair," she said.
The task force also will take up such issues as university standards for promotion and tenure, the appeal process and other topics. All will be hashed out in a series of open meetings. The first, on oversight and appeal, is today.
"The stakes in tenure decisions are very, very high - both for the university and the faculty member involved," Levy said. "It's important to try to have the best possible process, the clearest possible standards."