Cathy Shuman's first book is due out next month. It's being published
by a big-name press, Stanford University, and it's on a topic near and
dear to academics -- the test as a literary motif. She and her husband
may hold a small book party, but she doesn't have any academic colleagues
to celebrate with.
Last spring, Ms. Shuman was denied tenure and cut loose by Ohio State
University. Her crime? Publishing too little, too late, even though
she had produced a scholarly article and had the book contract in hand.
The English department supported her tenure bid, but a committee in
the College of Humanities overruled the department, and both the dean
and the provost agreed that Ms. Shuman didn't deserve tenure.
"The administration felt the English department's criteria were
not strict enough, and they were out to make an example," asserts
Ms. Shuman, who now works in New York as an editor for the Modern Language
Association. Though university administrators do not discuss specific
tenure cases, they agree that they are making the process more selective.
Remarks James Phelan, chairman of English at Ohio State: "Five
years ago, she would have been fine."
The bar for tenure is rising at major research universities and teaching
institutions alike. Most departments demand more published research
-- either articles or books, or both. Some institutions even accelerate
the whole procedure, sizing up young scholars years before tenure time
and showing them the door if it looks as if they won't eventually measure
"What's happening is that the process has become much more formal
and demanding and terrifying," says Kenneth T. Jackson, a professor
of history at Columbia University and president of the Organization
of American Historians. "The pressure is not just coming from faculty,
but from administrators who are trying to raise the status of the entire
institution on the backs of a new generation of young people."
Gaining tenure has always been daunting, and every year some young
scholars miss the mark. Most administrators say they continue to grant
tenure to roughly the same proportion of junior professors as they used
to. And they claim that their decisions are still based on three components
-- teaching, research and publishing, and service, although research
is now a key factor at many institutions that previously focused almost
entirely on teaching and service. The process of judging a tenure candidate
varies widely from place to place -- and from discipline to discipline
-- but whatever an institution expected 10 years ago, it now expects
The most significant change, people say, is the overwhelming pressure
on young professors to publish early and publish frequently. At some
institutions, that shift has come at the expense of teaching and service,
At Ivy League universities like Columbia, where one book used to be
standard for gaining tenure in departments such as history, senior faculty
members are pushing the threshold toward two. And at the University
of Richmond, where professors once could earn tenure without publishing
a thing, young biologists need research grants and several scholarly
articles to feel secure about their futures.
"There shouldn't be anyone on campus anymore who thinks they can
get tenure without publications, even though that was once possible,"
says Peter D. Smallwood, an assistant professor of biology. "And
one article is not enough. Whether it's three or five or seven, I don't
know." Just to be safe, Mr. Smallwood is shooting for eight by
the time he comes up for tenure next year.
The depressed job market in some disciplines has made it easy for universities
to demand more. It's largely a buyer's market, and universities are
giving more entry-level jobs to young scholars who have already spent
a couple of years in academe, either as adjuncts or on the tenure-track
at lesser-known institutions. Some may already have published articles
or even a book. If new hires have C.V.'s like that, come tenure time
their departments will expect even more.
Worries such as declining undergraduate enrollments are no longer a
top concern for universities. Today's administrators are preoccupied
with the competitive market for students' tuition dollars, and so universities
seek to pump up their profiles by hiring professors whose reputations
are already stellar -- and refusing to promote those whose aren't.
Richmond is an institution that believes it is "on the fast track
to the top of the quality ladder," according to William E. Cooper,
who took over as president there two years ago. Although Richmond traditionally
has emphasized undergraduate education, Mr. Cooper speaks enthusiastically
about putting it on a par with Princeton University, which he says is
a model for an institution that puts equal emphasis on teaching and
Even before Mr. Cooper arrived at Richmond, senior faculty members
had begun demanding that assistant professors do more research. In 1997,
the political-science department turned down the tenure bid of Patricia
M. Patterson, who hadn't published much but had won the university's
Ms. Patterson is now at Florida Atlantic University and declined to
comment on the situation. But another professor at Richmond confirmed
that "she didn't have as much of a publication track record as
people wanted her to have."
Mr. Cooper's Ivy League aspirations were quickly brought to bear at
Richmond. In 1998-99, his first academic year on the campus, four of
eight people up for tenure in the School of Arts and Sciences were approved
by their departments but rejected by a schoolwide tenure-and-promotion
panel. The dean eventually overturned two of the four rejections.
Elisabeth R. Gruner, one of those who eventually won tenure, is now
an associate professor of English and women's studies. By 1998-99, she
had published five journal articles and several book reviews, so she
was stunned when the tenure-and-promotion committee rejected the English
department's approval of her bid. The committee's members, she later
learned, thought "there could have been more" to her C.V.
But Ms. Gruner says she was never advised to churn out publications,
and she had devoted a lot of energy to coordinating the women's-studies
program. What does she tell young scholars following in her footsteps?
"I tell them to write a book."
Raymond F. Hilliard, chairman of the English department at Richmond,
acknowledges that the department now demands more. "It's been possible
to get tenure here if you have three substantial articles published
in very good journals with evidence of more in the pipeline," he
says. "But there is a growing expectation now that if you don't
have a book, or at least a contract by the time you come up for tenure,
you'd better look extremely good in all other ways."
Richmond's new expectations are personified by the two standout assistant
professors its history department hired this academic year. One, a medievalist
named Joanna Drell, won the American Academy in Rome's Rome Prize this
year. She is now finishing up one manuscript and starting work on a
second while on leave in Rome. The other new hire is Woody Holton, whose
first book, Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making
of the American Revolution in Virginia (University of North Carolina
Press), won the Organization of American Historians' award last year
for the best book in social history.
By contrast, Hugh West, chairman of the history department, has never
published a book in his 22-year career at Richmond. Before he earned
tenure, in 1987, he translated some essays and published two articles
and three book reviews.
Mr. West points out that while the university now demands more scholarship
of young professors, it is reducing other burdens. When he came to Richmond,
in 1978, professors taught four courses each semester. The load has
gradually declined, and within the next couple of years it is expected
to dip as low as two courses a semester.
This year, for the first time, the School of Arts and Sciences has
also begun offering junior faculty members semesterlong leaves for research.
"We are trying to provide more and more support for what we say
we want faculty to do," says David E. Leary, the school's dean.
He says Richmond still emphasizes good teaching, but now wants active
researchers as well. "If you're going to show students how to do
research, you can't show them what you learned in graduate school 20
years ago," he says. "It's not the same.'
Some faculty members believe the changes at Richmond are cheating students.
Even Mr. Leary acknowledges that the shift in faculty workloads will
mean fewer courses for undergraduates. But he says he expects professors
to spend more time with students outside the classroom, collaborating
with them on research, for example. "We want more and more discussion
to revolve around intellectual matters, not just what goes on in the
classroom," he says.
Besides demanding that young scholars produce more, some universities
are picking up the pace of the traditionally seven-year-long tenure
process. Five years ago, Ohio State adopted a policy aimed at weeding
out young scholars who don't look promising.
The policy requires a substantial review during a junior professor's
fourth year. The university had always evaluated young scholars then,
but typically the review was completed by only a department chairman
or a handful of professors. Now, all tenured faculty members in a department
must vote on whether to continue employing a young scholar after the
fourth year, and a college-level review committee must concur if the
department votes yes. Departments are encouraged to reject faculty members
who look as if they'll fail to clear the hurdle at tenure time.
"Before, people were given false hope," says Nancy M. Rudd,
vice provost for academic policy and human resources at Ohio State.
In the last four years, 15 assistant professors have been dismissed
before making their tenure bids.
Ohio State let Mary Pat Martin go after her fourth-year review in 1997.
At the time, Ms. Martin, who taught English, had one article published,
had another accepted for publication, and was working on a book about
the English novelist Samuel Richardson. She believes her book would
have been finished by the time she was up for tenure, a year and a half
later, but she wasn't given the benefit of the doubt. "Unless a
university thinks it will be bad for students to have someone on campus
for another year, it should give them a chance," says Ms. Martin,
who earned her Ph.D. from Yale University. She has been home with her
two young daughters since she left Ohio State, and doubts she'll ever
have a "conventional academic career" again.
Indiana University at Bloomington instituted an "enhanced"
third-year review for assistant professors several years ago, and even
requires them to solicit outside letters of recommendation -- just as
they do at tenure time. Only a handful of young scholars have been forced
to leave early. What's common, though, is for departments to quietly
counsel assistant professors who haven't produced enough to leave the
university of their own accord.
That's what happened to Clark Burdick in 1997, after his third year
in the economics department. He acknowledges that he hadn't published
at all by that point, but he cites extenuating circumstances. He went
through a divorce during his time at Indiana, and at the request of
his department, he says, he served on several committees and taught
large introductory courses.
Mr. Burdick is still bitter about what he considers the inflated standards
for tenure at Indiana. To be safe, he says sarcastically, "you
had to have a publication in a top-tier journal every year, you had
to be quoted on the editorial pages, and you had to go to church."
But he admits: "Clearly, I should have spent more time on research."
He now works as a senior economist with the U.S. Social Security Administration.
Mary Burgan, general secretary of the American Association of University
Professors, says the accelerated pace at some institutions is unwise."Seven
years is the time it takes to prepare oneself, and to think that the
process can be finished in three or four years seems to me to be a very
narrow view," she says. "There is already too much pressure
on new faculty."
All of the pressure to publish has had a trickle-down effect on graduate
students. They now enter the race to publish on Day 1.
"It is a very different enterprise than 10 years ago, when as
a graduate student you could be a scholar in the garret and only think
about your marketability when you had to write a cover letter,"
says Scott J. Juengel, an assistant professor of English at Michigan
State University. "Now it's imperative that students start thinking
in those terms the minute they step into their first seminar."
Eric Grekowicz originally wanted to focus his dissertation at Michigan
State on Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. But after learning that
the field was becoming flooded with work on Rushdie, Mr. Grekowicz worried
that his dissertation would never be published. So he switched gears,
choosing instead to examine writings during the closing years of British
rule in India. "I have definitely chosen a topic which is publishable
in the current trendy atmosphere," he says. "I've fallen in
love with the topic, but I also feel a little bit cheated that I could
not guide my education as I saw fit."
The pressure only intensifies after young scholars get their first
academic jobs. Many learn that being named an associate professor is
largely a numbers game. By the time Sandra G. Velleman earned tenure
in animal sciences at Ohio State last July, she had chalked up 43 published
articles and had more under review. Although she's been successful,
she says the pressure to publish has a downside: "You are less
likely to take a high risk if you don't think you can get a big return."
Daryl Michael Scott decided the pressure just wasn't worth it. He left
Columbia's history department for a job at the University of Florida,
in Gainesville, last fall, after it became clear that he'd never finish
his second book in time for tenure.
After joining Columbia's department, in 1993, Mr. Scott turned his
dissertation into a book and started on a second project, about displaced
American cotton workers, before realizing it was too big to finish.
He then chose another topic that he considered important but also more
manageable -- the history of white nationalism in the South. But that
project, too, grew out of control. That's when Mr. Scott jumped ship,
accepting a tenured post as director of African-American studies at
He worries that young scholars may choose book topics not because they
are worthwhile, but because they can be finished quickly. "This
is something that has the potential of killing scholarship," he
Understandably, young scholars are seeking advantage at every turn.
Some restart their tenure clocks by moving from one institution to another.
Mr. Juengel spent three years as an assistant professor of English at
the University of South Alabama, but he set his tenure clock back to
zero last fall, when he took the job at Michigan State. Ideally, he
says, he'd like to finish his book within three years and bid for tenure
then. But knowing that he'll actually have six years -- or a total of
nine since he started working in academe -- reassures him.
Another sign of mounting anxiety is the burgeoning size of dossiers.
"People are putting in more and more documents and supporting background
evidence, until all of the sudden you have to move the whole thing in
a crate," says Robert A. Becker, chairman of economics at Indiana.
Young professors, he says, are "under more pressure to get more
contacts, to get more letters" from outside reviewers. Tenure candidates
in his department must have as many as eight letters from outside scholars,
whereas when Mr. Becker himself came up for tenure, in 1983, the number
was closer to five.
Some long-tenured scholars wonder whether they could even earn tenure
by today's standards. Jean Richardson, a professor of environmental
studies and geography at the University of Vermont, believes that in
her case the answer would be no.
Ms. Richardson, who is now president of the Faculty Senate at Vermont,
had written only one peer-reviewed article before she earned tenure,
in 1987. "I would probably have to have four or five more now,"
she comments. But she questions the wisdom of that trend. "We're
forcing young 27-year-olds, who really don't know much yet, to generate
publications they're going to be embarrassed about later -- only to
keep a job," she says. "Ninety percent of the tenure decision
rests on the production of articles, most of which shouldn't have been
written in the first place."
Section: The Faculty