"I regret to inform you ..."

I’m at the end of my story of the formal tenure review. After the decisions in the School of Public Affairs, the evaluation process moved to the university level where the Committee on Faculty Relations (CFR) reviewed my file and then the Provost made the final decision. It’s all a little anticlimactic because we know I was fired. The Provost’s letter was completely predictable, a rehashing of Chair’s and Dean’s letters about the inadequacy of my research record, emphasizing that I had little potential and no promise of an upward trajectory in the future.

If memory serves, I got through the first line of the letter, had a few choice words that reflected my incredulity about any remorse he might have had in ending my career, and put the letter aside.

Picking up the letter some time later, I noticed that the Provost hadn’t actually signed it; the Interim Senior Vice Provost and Dean of Academic Affairs initialed it on his behalf. This might have been the most upsetting part for me; so relatively trivial, but so significant as an indication of how little he actually cared about the decision he’d made.

I also noticed that he hadn’t referenced the letter of support from the senior colleagues in my department (not surprising) and had summarily dismissed the possibility of gender bias in my case (also not surprising). I’ll return to his complete disregard for the pattern of discrimination in the Department and School at another time.

Particularly notable in the context of his evaluation of my dossier, though, was the Provost’s failure to acknowledge at all the tenure evaluation by the Committee on Faculty Relations.

Presumably, the CFR plays a meaningful role in the tenure process. I’ve always understood that this type of committee is the first defense against the potentially parochial decision making in department and school evaluations—defense not just for the tenure candidate, but for the institution as well. At AU, the CFR has responsibility for evaluating the dossier with fresh and objective eyes.

It is a major understatement to say that I was surprised and relieved when the CFR letter recommended tenure. After months of devastating, negative evaluations, I had to read it several times to appreciate it fully. Not only did a majority of the Committee find my contributions to the University valuable but they viewed my past productivity as a positive sign of my future success. They seemed to appreciate what the others had ignored, that the slowed pace of production was a function of child-bearing, and was not a sign of future potential.

It was not a sign of failure.

And the Committee’s acknowledgment of bias in the process—whether explicit or implicit—was a welcome change from previous evaluations.

But as a procedural and practical matter, I wasn’t sure what to make of the CFR recommendations. I don’t know how common it is to separate tenure from promotion as the CFR did. To be sure, granting tenure without promotion was certainly preferable to me than being promoted without tenure. And it seemed like a serious rebuke of the Chair’s and Dean’s evaluations.

At the same time, it’s clear that the Committee was trying not to overly censure the Dean and the School. By suggesting that the School had a reputation of fairness and objectivity, they tried to balance their recommendation that the review process be examined in light of the arguments I’d made in my rebuttal letters.

And by not recommending promotion, they seemed to be preserving some authority for the School to develop standards by which to frame and evaluate the research agenda required to earn promotion.

From a dispassionate view, I understand why they tried to walk the line they did. But as a practical matter, it’s hard to see how they thought this would play out for me or the School. The powers-that-be hadn’t just denied me tenure, they had completely decimated my research record. I couldn’t imagine how we would have worked to develop a plan that would have earned me promotion to Associate Professor.

Alas, it was all conjecture in the end as the Provost ignored the CFR altogether and denied tenure.

But then, this was not a surprise to anyone familiar with tenure cases at AU, including my lawyer.