Monday, November 22, 2010

Actually, We Don't Hate You

Although many faculty survive the tenure review process with unanimous positive votes from their department on up, it is also not unusual for there to be a few negative votes at the stages involving the department or higher level committees, particularly in large departments. That is, although the candidate receives a positive recommendation for tenure, and all votes are a strong majority endorsement of tenure, there might be a few outlier 'no' votes.

Aside from being psychologically painful and perhaps semi- to very devastating to the tenure candidate, despite their ultimate tenure success:

What do these negative votes mean?

There are many possible explanations for the outlier negative votes, but, if this happens to you, one thing these negative votes do not automatically mean is that there are people in your department or on your campus who think you should be denied tenure.

It is possible that the votes mean that, but, from what I've seen, it is more common for there to be a few no votes, even for an overall strong candidate for tenure, for other reasons, including:

The reflexive 'no' vote. Some professors just do this, knowing they will be outvoted, wanting to be outvoted, and proud to be the flag-bearer for impossibly high standards. They don't really want you to lose your job; they just don't want you to think you're so great that you deserve a unanimous positive vote. My advice: Forget the 'no' vote(s), focus on the many 'yes' votes, and don't be a reflexive 'no' voter once you have tenure.

The mini-protest 'no' vote. These voters also don't want you to be thrown out. They think you deserve tenure, but there is something about your record that they don't like, and they are sending you a message about this. This 'something' does not rise to the level of being a cause for tenure denial, so they vote 'no', counting on being in the minority. Ideally, these 'no' voters will indicate what their criticism is (albeit not attributed to anyone in particular) in the letter summarizing the department or committee vote. That way, you will know that one or more faculty had a (small) problem with the number/quality/venues of your publications, think you should put more effort into teaching, or are distressed that you didn't have the right number or type of grants (for example). My advice: Forget the 'no' vote(s), focus on the many 'yes' votes, and try to fix whatever issue has been identified (if you agree that it is a reasonable criticism).

These explanations might not take the sting out of having one or more people vote 'no' in your tenure evaluation, but I think it might be psychologically important for some tenure candidates to know that these outlier 'no' votes do not automatically mean that someone thinks you should be denied tenure. So, if this happens (or has happened) to you, I hope you won't feel (too) paranoid as you wander the corridors or campus byways, that you don't spend hours (years) wondering who voted no, and especially that you won't think about it during faculty meetings, unless it helps pass the time in a more interesting way for you and your suspects, in which case, do whatever it takes to survive.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I almost always vote 'no' because professors rarely live up to their potential. I truly believe most tenured professors are just experts in pretending on being busy.

Anonymous said...

Anon, Are you in a math department? There are always "no" votes in math departments.

Female Genetics Professor said...

I understand the rationale for this post - to keep candidates for promotion from becoming demoralized by no votes. However, they are taken very seriously by higher-level committees here! If there are any no votes, the department chair is asked to explain them (although, if the department votes are by secret ballot, this isn't always possible). More than one would be a cause for much discussion in these committees. It is assumed that such votes do mean that the voter believes the candidate should not get tenure. The other explanations you offer might cause someone to Abstain (which also engenders a request for an explanation). In those cases, the voter may say that he/she doesn't know the candidate well enough, for example. There is one large department here in which there is always one abstention. No one knows why, but that isn't taken seriously because APT committee members know that history.

Anonymous said...

Of course, if the majority of a department votes "no", it also probably means that they don't "hate" you. Hopefully hate is dealt with long before a tenure-track prof is up for tenure.

It does mean that you are likely deficient for this particular professorial position.

Anonymous said...

I'm in a very large department. I got a 'no' vote by someone who felt competitive with me. Also, she didn't get tenure at her previous institution and wanted to inflict this on others.

Anonymous said...

Or, a third flavor of a 'no' vote which is more poisonous though less common, is one which is planned by collaboration. I know of one dean who lobbied members of the department to vote 'no,' to seed doubt for tenure rejections at levels above the department.

ChemProf said...

We don't "vote" in the department level committee and have no role in tenure decisions for other departments. The time for pointing out the negatives is in the years involving reappointment leading up to the tenure year. If a department committee and chairperson did anything other than enthusiastically recommend a candidate for tenure, there would be likely to be a decision against tenure, unless the dean and provost thought we just 'didn't like" the person. It is assumed the department will be supporting their candidates by that time, and that the dean has higher standards than we do.

It is interesting how different things are a different places.

mOOm said...

I heard nothing from handing in my file to getting a phone call from the Provost announcing the result. So definitely didn't hear what the votes were.

Anonymous said...

Not even a rumor? There are almost always rumors..

Margaret L said...

We have one bitter old guy who votes no on all promotions. He is estranged from the department, and completely absentee except for teaching his classes. He is quite open about the fact that he does it because he feels the department treated him badly. Never mind that the people he's voting against had nothing to do with it. And that he has no information about their performance, because he doesn't go to the meetings, and doesn't look at their files.

Dave Backus said...

In my experience, unanimous votes often reflect politics, for good or bad. Non-unanimous votes could simply mean a healthy range of opinion on an important decision. Whatever the reason, should it be public information?

Anonymous said...

In one pre-tenure review, I received a few 'no' votes and heard that a couple of the no-voters felt that the evaluation letter wasn't positive enough.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Our department has always voted unanimously (so far). In difficult cases, there are long discussions leading up to the vote, and sometimes there are still disagreements about the size of promotion to recommend, but we look at the evidence very carefully and try to put together a rock-solid case for whatever we are recommending.

There are departments on our campus that never vote unanimously on anything (mostly in the humanities, where back-stabbing one's colleagues seems to be fashionable).

Anonymous said...

I received two 'no' votes when I was hired. It still chaps me. I look around faculty meetings trying to figure out who did it.

Lia said...

I don't care if I am getting any no votes as long as I'm getting tenure. I'm not even going to ask if I did get any "No"s