As I wrote in Women & Men in Mathematics, tenure is a platform to change the world. I encourage all newly-tenured individuals to pause and reflect on what is important to them—to take a break from the academic conveyer belt, assess their skills and passions, and determine for themselves how best to change the world.

For many, this will involve a short pause to recoup from the trauma of hoop-jumping, before hopping back on the academic conveyer. Others may reflect and decide that their passion lies in one of the other official job-duties of tenured professors: teaching and service. Still others may decide to jump fields, angle for an administrative position or use their accumulated academic and political capital to work on social issues. Academics are legion, and there are lots of ways to change the world!

Post-tenure reviews work great for those happy to hop back on the academic conveyer belt, and those whose passion truly lies in their scholarship. But what is their use for individuals who want to reinvent themselves? How do we reconcile the narrow standards put forward by department heads and associate deans, with the lofty dreams and ideals of those who have moved beyond them? How does a university harness the passion and energy of these diverted academics without relegating them to the insulting, false category of dead wood?

I do not have an answer for these questions, except to say that the answer does not lie a hastily written summary of activity ending in the words Meets Expectations, Exceeds Expectations or the dreaded Does Not Meet Expectations.

The diverted academic has transcended your expectations, and any assessment based on narrow, metrics-driven criteria is more apt to drive them farther from the academic milieu than bring them back to the fold.

One possible path forward is to use a post-tenure review to identify all faculty activities that support the university mission (hint: that’s most of them) and to determine what resources are available to support that work.

Occasionally, though I suspect much less frequently than associate deans would have you believe, individuals are not fulfilling the required parts of the job. Independent of their dreams and ideals, most tenured faculty still have to teach and sit on committees. This is real work, and it should be done well. For those individuals falling down on this portion of their job, a suggested course correction is necessary and appropriate.

I understand the motivation for post-tenure reviews. I just wish they reflected the diversity of opinions on what it means to be an academic in the modern age. Instead, as currently envisioned, they drive us to the least-common-denominator of expectations as pushed by metrics-chasing administrators more worried about rankings than actually changing the world for good.


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