Yale may soon bring its unusually long tenure review process — which some have said leads to serious attrition of junior faculty — in line with that of other schools.
For the first time since the current Faculty of Arts and Sciences tenure system, known as FASTAP, was put into place in 2007, a faculty committee led by FAS Dean Tamar Gendler is examining the ways in which the system can be improved and modernized. In March, after 14 months of work, the committee released draft recommendations to the FAS ladder faculty proposing several key changes that would bring Yale’s tenure review system closer to almost every other research institution in the nation. FAS ladder faculty members held a town hall about the recommendations on March 31, and a revised copy of the proposals will be circulated to FAS ladder faculty next week. They will vote on a final set of recommendations in the fall.
The recommendations propose three major changes, the most significant of which is to cut the tenure clock — the period before a professor must be evaluated for tenure — from nine years to eight. All the other Ivy League schools either have seven- or eight-year tenure clocks. In the past, some faculty members have expressed concerns about the adverse effect Yale’s unusually long tenure clock has on the University’s ability to recruit and retain talented junior faculty, especially women and underrepresented minorities. They said junior faculty members often receive, and sometimes accept, attractive tenure offers from other universities before they come up for tenure review at Yale. The two other changes would shorten the amount of leave time professors receive to prepare for tenure review, and reduce the number of reviews involved in the overall process.
Professors interviewed praised the proposed shortening of the tenure clock, but they noted that a true revision of the system could require a broader cultural shift in how the University judges the qualifications and standards for tenure.
“It remains to be seen whether these changes will be effective. I would say that if the rules for tenure are changed, this change has to be accompanied by a change in the culture of the faculty,” Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program Chair Margaret Homans said. “The faculty has to want this to work. We would have to think about giving tenure to professors more because they are promising, rather than because they are already established world leaders in their field.”
When the current FASTAP system was first designed, the committee in charge of its creation suggested that the system be reviewed after a decade. Former Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Jon Butler, who co-chaired the original FASTAP committee, said the current tenure system is itself a revision of a decades-long system. Before the 2007 revision, the tenure clock was 10 years long, and when junior faculty members came up for review, they were compared with outside candidates in a full search.
“It was very bad for morale, and we felt like it was unhealthy,” Butler said.
The new system not only trimmed a year off the clock and ended external comparison, but also gave junior faculty members up to four semesters of leave to prepare for their tenure review.
Now, the FASTAP review committee is looking to shorten the clock even further. Changing the tenure clock from nine years to eight would mean that junior professors would likely undergo tenure review in their seventh year rather than their eighth. This shift would bring Yale closer to its peer institutions: Four out of eight Ivy League schools have seven-year tenure clocks, and the other three besides Yale have eight-year tenure clocks.
This proposed revision would help Yale prevent promising junior faculty from being poached by other institutions.
“Our clock’s current length seems to produce greater likelihood that our best faculty will be recruited before we are able to tenure them,” said Religious Studies Chair Kathryn Lofton, who serves on the FASTAP review committee. “Because our peer institutions have shorter clocks, they can promise tenure sooner than we are currently able to do so.”
The draft report itself also notes that many FAS professors believe that the long tenure clock may be a liability in recruitment, in addition to retention.
Butler said he “has no problems” with the proposal to further shorten the tenure clock. In fact, he said, many members of the original FASTAP committee wanted to shorten the clock from 10 years to eight in 2007, but the committee ultimately felt that such a change would be too radical and abrupt.
Still, some faculty members have raised questions about whether the standards for earning tenure would remain the same with the shorter time frame. If junior faculty members have to meet the same tenure standards -— for example, publishing two books -— in a shortened amount of time, getting tenure at Yale could actually become even more difficult, they argued.
History, American Studies and African American Studies professor Glenda Gilmore said she does not believe the recommendations indicate that the standards for tenure would change. Lofton emphasized that Yale’s tenured faculty should “stand among the foremost leaders in the world.” She added that this is still feasible under the proposed new timeline.
Humanities Divisional Director and FASTAP review sub-committee chair Amy Hungerford suggested that rather than lowering the standards for tenure, the tenure review committees may instead be more predictive and forward-looking in their assessments of candidates.
“If you think of a scholar’s trajectory as a line on a graph, we would simply be looking at that line at an earlier point on its path. The general shape should still be apparent in the seventh year,” she said.
She added that in most cases, the one-year difference would not significantly affect the tenure evaluation decisions. In cases where the one year would make a difference, Hungerford said, there may be an “acceptable institutional risk” to not promoting the candidate to tenure, as the University could always try to recruit scholars back later. Giving tenure to faculty members who have shown inadequate promise in their seventh year, she said, would pose a much bigger risk that could negatively affect departments for decades.
The draft report suggests two other main changes that hinge upon the proposed shortened clock. The first is to shorten the pretenure leave time from four terms to three terms, in proportion to the overall shortening of the process. An earlier draft of the report, which was circulated among faculty in March, stated that “faculty may be granted a fourth term of leave before tenure if they are awarded a prestigious outside fellowship.”
However, this recommendation generated significant criticism from faculty members, and it has since been removed from the most recent draft recommendations. Art History professor and former Yale College Dean Mary Miller told the News that “prestigious outside fellowships” are often residential and thus less accessible to women, as well as men with young families.
“It would be extremely difficult for women to take on that competition and to uproot their family, or be away from their family, and take on a residential fellowship,” Miller said. “I gather that other individuals have also raised the same concern.”
Gendler said the recommendation was removed in light of faculty feedback. Junior faculty members would now uniformly have three terms of leave.
The last major change the report recommends is the elimination of a third review throughout the tenure process. Currently, faculty members undergo an internal review in their third year, a promotion review to associate professor on term in their fifth or sixth year and finally a tenure review generally in their eighth year. The new timeline would involve only two reviews: a reappointment review before the fourth year and a tenure review in the seventh year.