July 23rd, 2009

Tenure Standards: A Survey of Department Chairs


Results of a survey of political science department chairs is getting quite a bit of press (see the July 20 issue of Inside Higher Education, www.insidehighered.com). The survey of almost 400 department chairs inquired about tenure standards at BA, MA, and PhD granting institutions. It asked about a number of issues related to tenure standards and explored (once again) the relative worth of teaching and research.

Chairs were asked whether superior teaching compensates for mediocre research. At BA granting, undergraduate colleges and universities, 64 percent said it did, compared with 38 percent at MA institutions and 14 percent at research universities. The same question was asked about research: does superior research compensate for mediocre teaching. Seventeen percent of the chairs at BA institutions said it did, 34 percent at MA schools agreed as did 55 percent at research universities.

Among other findings of interest was the almost universal extent to which teaching is evaluated with student evaluations. It doesn’t matter what kind of institution, student evaluations are used to assess teaching. A fairly widespread use of teaching portfolios, course syllabi, and peer review by another faculty member was also reported.

The survey also inquired whether teaching publications and substantive publications (I assume that means research journals—isn’t that word choice just a bit biased?) are equal. At BA institutions, 43 percent said yes, as did 32 percent at MA schools and 11 percent at research universities.

I’m not sure if these percentages are encouraging or not. We need data from more disciplines and some benchmarks for comparison. Should we expect parity at research institutions? How important should research be at an undergraduate institution? Although the percentages valuing teaching and research publications equally don’t look good, I’ll bet they are significantly better than they would have been 10 years ago.

Other disciplines ought to be doing this kind of analysis of tenure and this study offers an excellent model. You might want to take a look at the complete results.

Reference: Rothgeb, Jr., J. M. and Burger, B. (2009). Tenure standards in political science departments: Results from a survey of department chairs. PS, Politcal Science and Politics, 42 (3), 513-519.