Starting the fall semester as a new tenure-track faculty member at a regional university is daunting enough without the additional stress and uncertainty that comes with a global pandemic. Whether teaching in person or online, new assistant professors face a set of expectations that remain the same, pandemic or not. Progress toward tenure and promotion will be judged by their achievements in research, teaching, and service.
Strategy and planning are important for getting a positive recommendation from your third year review committee, department chair, and dean. Taking that feedback and following it for another three years to achieve tenure and the rank of associate professor makes the whole process a six-year endeavor. However, the risk of denial and dismissal is real, so it is important to have a plan for success.
The following recommendations for ensuring a smooth tenure and promotion process aren’t meant to be applicable to every scenario. However, they can give new tenure-track faculty a head start on crafting a solid plan.
Read your department’s tenure and promotion policy
This is one of the first things you should do. If you haven’t received it yet, ask your department chair to email a copy to you. This is the document against which your work will be judged. Tenure and promotion policies vary widely across departments, disciplines, and universities. However, yours should include your department’s expectations for research, teaching, and service.
Prioritize presenting and publishing research
Regional universities have greater research expectations than they used to require. The days of “we’re a teaching institution” are largely over for tenure-track faculty members. If you are not producing research, you will likely not achieve tenure, so be sure to make this a primary focus of your first three years as a faculty member. Conference presentations are great for meeting new colleagues, reuniting with grad school buddies, and getting feedback on your research. But be sure to turn those presentations into journal publications. Rework your dissertation chapters into journal articles, too. While this can vary by academic department and discipline, you likely won’t be under too much pressure to always publish in your field’s top-tier journals. Regional publications are great venues for sharing your work.
Teach with a plan
Excellence in teaching will always be required for tenure and promotion. When you’re starting your career, it’s important to get your courses established. Don’t be surprised to learn this might take a couple of years. But don’t stop there. Plan to impress your third year review committee by showing them how your courses evolve over time to address new ideas, emerging challenges, or current professional needs. Seek regular student feedback (beyond the end-of-semester evaluations) and incorporate the best ideas into future courses. Find ways to connect lessons to academic learning outcomes and professional applications. Invite a mentor to observe one of your teaching sessions and write a letter of support for your review packet. Finally, take some time to establish your teaching philosophy, adjust it when necessary, and rely on it as your guide.
Don’t overdo service
You’ll likely need some help with this one. It’s easy to pile service opportunities onto new and non-tenured faculty. Service is a requirement for tenure and promotion, so it needs to be part of your overall strategy (but research still reigns supreme). It is also a reality that established faculty members have the status (and confidence) to bow out of service opportunities once they’ve passed their promotion milestones. When you’re new and have no status, it’s difficult to say “no.” There are some pros and cons here. In the pro category, service helps you network with other faculty members, it introduces you to some of the inner mechanisms of higher education, and it helps you build your status on campus. In the con category, poorly-executed service opportunities can be a time suck. Speak with your department chair (or a trusted colleague) about helping you pursue service opportunities that match your interests and capabilities while protecting you from assignments that don’t.
You will be surrounded by colleagues who want you to succeed. Your department chair can be (and should be) one of your most important mentors, but be sure to seek mentors from across campus, as well. Some will help you navigate your discipline. Some will help you navigate your university. Others will help you navigate your career. And a special few will help you navigate your life.