Pre-tenure Review and Post-tenure Review Issues

Obtaining tenure may be your ultimate goal if you're an assistant or associate professor trying to move up the professional ladder at your college or university. But you'll undergo a rigorous professional evaluation to get tenure and keep it. So, what happens if your tenure review process becomes unfair because of bias, prejudice, or discrimination? Fortunately, you do have options if you suspect your tenure review is unfair.

What Is Tenure?

Tenure is a goal for many professors who've dedicated their life to academia. After passing a rigorous review process that examines your research or body of work, teaching, awards and accolades, and your peers' thoughts, tenure comes with an expectation of job security and protection at your college or university. Tenure often protects professors who engage in controversial or ground-breaking research, allowing them academic freedom they might not otherwise have to expand knowledge in their fields. Unfortunately, because obtaining and keeping tenure involves subjective evaluations, the process can be fraught with bias and discrimination.

Pre-tenure Review

Pre-tenure review is the process a college or university follows to grant or deny tenure to professors. Your initial contract should contain your job title and expressly state whether it is a tenure or non-tenure track position. The college's employee policy manual usually outlines your school's tenure process and procedures.

For example, at the University of Georgia, the school sets the entire tenure review process and timeline on its website, consisting of the following:

  1. Evaluations: The tenure track includes annual written evaluations and peer reviews that include each candidate's scholarship, research, or creative work; teaching; service; and administration.
  2. Pre-tenure Review: Assistant professors in their third year will face an appointed committee to review their “performance in teaching, research and other creative activities, and service.” The committee then reports its findings to the promotion or tenure unit, and the unit provides the assistant professor with a report on their progress toward promotion.
  3. Annual Evaluations: After the third year review, assistant professors eligible for tenure will face a yearly review with a preliminary, first year of eligibility, and second year of eligibility review with an application for tenure. The seventh year is the final year of eligibility for promotion and tenure, and applicants can only apply in this year with prior approval.

All the eligible faculty in a college or department participate in a promotion and tenure position with a secret ballot. The head of the review unit will then summarize the process in a report. If a candidate disagrees with the faculty decision, they can read and review the report and respond in writing, correcting errors and adding evidence of grants, awards, publications, or significant achievements. There are other opportunities for review or appeal, but they all result in another vote of the same faculty.

Post-tenure Review

Even once a professor has tenure, the potential for discrimination affecting their career is still possible. For example, the University of Georgia requires post-tenure review for all its tenured faculty members. Their policy states:

Each tenured faculty member must be reviewed every five years in accordance with criteria and procedures adopted by the promotion/tenure unit. These criteria and procedures must follow University policy as well as any policies at the college/school level.

The school policy also states that the criteria for faculty reviews should not:

[I]nfringe on the accepted standards of academic freedom of faculty, including the freedom to pursue novel, unpopular, or unfashionable lines of inquiry. The review shall be carried out free of bias or prejudice by factors such as race, religion, sex, color, national origin, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, disability, political affiliation, or veteran status.

However, despite the best intentions, evaluations are completed by people who cannot always be dispassionate and objective. Post-tenure review often includes both objective and subjective evaluations, which can be open to personal and professional biases. For example, UGA's post-tenure review includes:

  1. A review of qualitative and quantitative evidence of the faculty member's performance over the previous five-year period. This will include annual reviews and an application with accomplishments, awards, publications, evaluations, and research from the faculty member.
  2. Discussion with the faculty member about their contributions and awards.
  3. Consideration of a faculty member's contributions to the school and field of study.

If you believe your tenure review wasn't fair, failed to follow the school's procedures, or involved discrimination, you have recourse. But you should get an attorney experienced in handling university and college tenure appeals involved as soon as possible to ensure you don't miss any procedural deadlines.

Pre- and Post-tenure Review Discrimination

Although laws prohibiting workplace discrimination have been in place for decades, it continues to happen in the college and university setting. In academia, more than 70% of teaching appointments are now in non-tenured positions, and women and people of color are less likely to obtain tenure. While discrimination can happen covertly in subtle ways, it can also become more apparent during the tenure review process.

Federal law prohibits discrimination in the tenure review process under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title VII prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, and sex. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education, which includes faculty and staff in colleges and universities that receive federal funds. Most states also have anti-discrimination statutes that mirror or exceed the protections in federal law.

If you believe discrimination led to the denial of your tenure or promotion, you may be entitled to file a formal complaint, both with your college or university and under federal law. For discrimination claims under Title IX, you may be able to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. For sex discrimination claims under Title VII, you may be able to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

However, it's a good idea to consult an experienced education discrimination attorney like Joseph D. Lento as soon as possible. You want to ensure that you meet any deadlines established by your employer and federal regulations. An experienced attorney can ensure that you comply with all the necessary procedures and ensure your complaint reaches the correct agency or office. If necessary, an attorney can also file a discrimination lawsuit on your behalf.

Hire an Experienced University Employee Defense Attorney

If you're facing potential unfairness or discrimination in the tenure review system or another college or university-specific work issue, you need an attorney experienced in dealing with the college and university appellate process and federal processes for discrimination claims under federal or state law. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the skilled legal team at the Lento Law Firm have a great deal of experience helping college professors and negotiating with higher education institutions across the country. Find out how they can help you too. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to schedule your consultation, or contact them online today.

Contact Us Today!

If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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