Sunday, February 11, 2018

Taking Notes

The tenured folks in my department had a big meeting on Friday about our Review After Tenure (RAT) process with one of the semi-big-wigs over in the Fort, the big administration building that looks like, yes, a Fort.

Basically, RAT feels like you're going through tenure again.  There are three possible outcomes, though, instead of just one.  1.  You exceed expectations and get a bump or raise (associates get a one-time bump, fulls get a raise.  For associates, RAT comes the year before you can go up for full.  So you get to do a big review process again the next year.  Yay.)   2.  You meet expectations and get a tiny one time bump or little raise.  3.  You get does not meet expectations and get "remediation."  If there's a problem with remediation, you can get fired.

A bunch of us were reviewed this year for RAT, and since we all put in basically a new tenure file, our colleagues working on the post-tenure committee had to do pretty much full tenure reviews on about a third of us.  (It was the biggest cohort.)

The reviews use criteria laid out in an official document which has been approved by the Dean and Provost's office.  So it should be meaningful, right?

The department, so far as I know (I was away last semester) gave us all "exceeds expectations" letters and votes.  The chair weighed in, and gave us (so far as I know) all "exceeds expectations" reviews.

And the Dean knocked all but one of us down to "meets" and sent a little note saying that not everyone can exceed expectations.  He didn't provide any criteria.

The common belief is that there's a designated and limited "pot of money" for these bumps and raises, and the administration has to limit the "exceeds" numbers to fit the pot.  The semi-big-wig denied this, and said that there's no pot of money for these bumps and raises, but they come out of this pot of money for salaries and such... so, there's no pot of money, except there is.

So basically, we have a new big review every five years, which can result in losing one's job or not, and yes, it feels like tenure is dead.

I made this mistake of offering to take notes when the committee secretary who was chairing the committee in the absence of the usual chair asked if someone would.  The meeting lasted an hour and a half, and it wasn't the sort of thing where the notes could say "discussion ensued" so it took a fair bit of time to type them up.  (I did it right after the meeting so that things would be as fresh in memory as possible.)  My notes ran 5 pages.  Ugh.

So, my morale about my job is quite low, and I'm not the only one.  As I was typing my notes (with my door open, and my computer screen placement has me facing the open door), several colleagues stopped on their way out to commiserate and share their own sense of unhappiness and low morale.


  1. Wow. That's just awful.

    I'd give advice, but I have none. That's a terrible way to run any job, much less a university.

  2. Good heavens -- if you can get fired, then you don't really have tenure. Gah! No wonder you are all frustrated. I'm so sorry.

  3. Anonymous12:21 AM

    This is exactly how it's done in my corporate job -- not everyone in the team can get ratings above "meets". If you only get "meets", you get a tiny raise and if you are in a team where everybody has to get a high rating, because it can't be denied, then everybody on the team still gets a tiny raise, because the pot is not big enough for big raises for all. Loose - loose all the way. This makes me very cynical when management calls for "going the extra mile".

  4. The department thinks you’re all doing great and wants you to get raises. It’s at higher levels that you have a problem.

    Says Pollyanna.


  5. What Anonymous said. We're all supposed to give 110%, but when we all do, we're told we *can't* all be doing that.

    It's a recipe for tanking the morale of your university, or any other work place.

  6. This is the direction our state wants to take us as well. We're not there yet, but they're putting steps in place to get us there.

  7. With faculty load as a pretext, our admin is looking to create more "flexibility" in positions, meaning more non-tenure track jobs (e.g., teaching track, clinical, etc.). My dept already has a majority of non-tenure track full-timers, including the dean, and there's already been talk of post-tenure review in addition to annual reviews.

    For now, it's phasing out tenure, but it's also an effective divide and conquer strategy. Non-tenure track faculty in my dept, which includes my dean, have raised the issue of post-tenure review.

    A more obedient workforce is the goal, greater worker insecurity is the strategy.

  8. Anonymous8:33 AM

    It's the same at my institution. I received tenure and had it taken away in the same year. Beware falling afoul of your masters. They can make your life hell.

  9. Anonymous12:34 PM

    we have post-tenure review. (At least we don't call it RAT!). It's every three years. On top of this, every year we must do a self-assessment and a plan for the next year. Somehow, along the way, people got sold on the idea that adding in post-tenure review made less work for the faculty but that's not true - it really is kinda like making "Tenure Packet, Jr." every three years.

    At least here you have to get two DOCUMENTED unsatisfactory reviews - with no evidence you've tried to improve - to have your tenure revoked.

    But also: there is NO money for raises. So there's no carrot for doing your job well; only a stick for doing it badly. (Then again: given the way funding for higher ed in my state has gone, every year I still even HAVE a job I am grateful. And my students are enjoyable and I genuinely like my colleagues. I just wish there wasn't so much damn paperwork...)

    1. Ugh, Anon, that sounds miserable.

  10. Matt Reed3:18 AM

    Actual question, no snark intended: has anyone ever actually lost a job through this system?

    1. Very fair question. It's very new. The union (which has no power at all) is making sounds as if it will help pay for a lawyer if/when it happens because traditionally tenure has been considered a kind of property.

  11. Anonymous6:12 AM

    Sounds as arbitrary as an initial tenure decision. Still, some accountability mechanism needs to be in place.