Years ago I participated in a panel discussion involving the topic of Tenure. The panel speakers consisted of faculty and at least one Dean, and the people asking questions and listening were administrators, citizens interested in the workings of the university, and some local media. It was an eye-opener for me because it hadn't occurred to me that there were university employees and others closely involved with the university who did not know that research productivity was a requirement for tenure at a major research university.
The most interesting question was: Do you have to be liked to get tenure?
The Dean fielded that one and said, emphatically, no.
I suppose that's true. I am sure we can all think of some colleagues who are not particularly likable or liked but who have tenure.
But perhaps there are limits? Perhaps, if someone is slightly vulnerable in some respect (publications, grants, teaching) and they are bizarre or unlikable, the personality factor can tip the scale? As long as the decision can be justified in terms of the usual "metrics" and not rest heavily on the likability or eccentricity of the candidate, this may well occur.
I think this can also go the other way. I can think of people who are well liked or have some other personal attributes that are seen as positive (one of my colleagues has a favorite hypothesis about Tall Men, for example) and who might therefore see the scales tip in their favor despite having a less-than-awesome record of publications or grants.
The process of evaluating someone for tenure is overall a fair process with many checks and balances, but unless a case is completely obvious, either for or against tenure, by all the usual measures, there are ways that issues like personality can creep in.
I know that some tenure-track faculty worry that if they aren't part of the dominant faculty culture (for whatever reason), they will be at a disadvantage for tenure. Such issues can have wider impact if they affect a faculty member's ability to function in some important way (e.g., access to resources, professional networks, advice) and therefore can ultimately affect a tenure decision, even if not in an obvious way.
At the other end of the spectrum from faculty who feel isolated are those who are very outspoken about controversial issues. The tenure process should be oblivious to such things.
You don't have to be liked to get tenure, but you do need to be able to function in your job. You need to be able to interact with people, especially students, in a positive way. If the reasons someone is widely disliked are related to how they treat students, postdocs, staff, or, in some cases, colleagues, then this characteristic may well be a valid tenure issue.
1 year ago