Despite some valid concerns expressed by Kansas University faculty members, a system for reviewing tenured faculty provides an opportunity to measure faculty performance in a way that resonates with academic peers, university funders and the public in general.
A KU faculty committee has proposed a policy to review tenured faculty every seven years. The reviews would be conducted by other faculty in each professor’s department and would be an opportunity to take a broad look at the professor’s research and teaching accomplishments. It wouldn’t eliminate any of the career protections offered by tenure, but would, university leaders said, provide more faculty accountability.
That accountability is important, for instance, to the Association of American Universities, a prestigious group of which KU is a member — and wants to make sure it remains a member. Some say that accountability also is important to shore up the image of the university among the public and specifically among state legislators responsible for providing state funding for KU. The reviews would help fight the perception that faculty members can pretty much do what they want — or not do much of anything — after they achieve tenure.
As some faculty members have pointed out, post-tenure review provides a valuable opportunity for strong faculty members to showcase their achievements. That’s particularly important for associate professors who are tenured but may not be progressing toward becoming full professors. It seems it also would provide a strong incentive for all tenured faculty members to continue to grow and excel in their fields.
Among the valid concerns expressed by faculty is the amount of time they and their peers will spend being evaluated or evaluating others in their departments. Perhaps that concern could be addressed by revisiting the idea of continuing annual reviews for faculty members in addition to the post-tenure reviews every seven years. The broader post-tenure reviews may be a better way to assess the overall accomplishments of faculty members, making the annual snapshot reviews less necessary. Those reviews shouldn’t be eliminated altogether, but perhaps they could be conducted once every two or three years.
KU officials don’t expect post-tenure reviews to trigger faculty dismissals, but one faculty member points out it would be nice to offer some kind of reward to those successfully completing the process. Because of the uncertainty of funding for salary increases, other rewards were suggested, such as better parking spots, a dinner with the KU chancellor or tickets to KU events. Those rewards might be nice, but they represent a puny token for years of academic and research success. Nothing expresses appreciation like a pay raise, and university officials should work hard to keep salary increases on the rewards menu.
KU has until April 2014 to work out all the details of a post-tenure review process. In the non-academic world, measuring job performance throughout an employee’s career is the norm. KU faculty should look at this process not as a negative but as a positive opportunity to showcase their research and accomplishments.