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Role of Collegiality in Tenure

Sparked by the faculty-meeting shooting in Huntsville, Alabama, Janet Stemwedel, on her blog Adventures in Ethics and Science, raised the role collegiality should play in making tenure decisions. Stemwedel puts her position on the issue right in the blog post title: “Collegiality matters”.

You shouldn’t have to be the life of the party or a good drinking-buddy to get tenure, she says. But Stemwedel underscores the consequences for someone lacking in social skills when it comes time to make the tenure decision: “People smart enough (in terms of both intellect and wisdom) that you’d want to be colleagues with them for 20 or 30 years are not going to happily grant tenure to someone who is an absolute pain in the ass, who shirks shared responsibility, or who poisons morale in your department.”

Stemwedel acknowledges that establishing baselines or criteria for collegiality is tricky. There are no objective measures, and it’s entirely possible to use lack of an ability to get along with colleagues as a way of masking discrimination.The ability to schmooze should not trump publishing and teaching accomplishments, she adds. Nonetheless, Stemwedel says, “The ability to work with your colleagues is part of the job.” (original emphasis). If you can’t or won’t do that part of your job, she says, then don’t expect your colleagues to want you around for the rest of their careers

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) offers guidance to universities on incorporating the factor of collegiality in tenure decisions. AAUP argues against establishing collegiality as a separate criterion, but encourages collegiality as a factor in attaining the required standard in the primary criteria of scholarship, teaching, and service, in tenure decisions. 

As you can imagine, an extended thread of comments follows the blog post, including some comments with the heat turned up. Some comments echo Stemwedel’s concerns about the imprecise nature of collegiality, while others point to the faculty member’s ability to get funding, which can trump all other criteria. One comment, however, stands out …

Early in my career, I voted yes on a tenure decision when I should have voted no. After I realized this, I considered how I should proceed in the future. I decided that if I had to think about whether a person should be tenured or promoted, I would vote no. I am well convinced I voted correctly in every instance after making this decision.

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