How to improve the tenure process

Next, institutions must heed growing calls to abandon paper counting and similar metrics for evaluating researchers. One alternative approach, the Rule of Five, demonstrates a clear commitment to quality: candidates present their best five papers over the past five years, accompanied by a description of the research, its impact and their individual contribution. The exact numbers are immaterial: what matters is the focus on quality. A handful of institutions have required reviewers to consider individual contributions rather than lists of publications, and the shift has not been easy. Reviewers should be admonished for Googling individuals’ h-indices and citation lists, for example. Perseverance and self-reflection are essential.

Here is the Nature piece by Alan Finkel, via Lama.


Blackmail them and see who pays the most. That's using the free market system to solve for the equilibrium.

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End it don't mend it.

Quality is far more difficult to determine than quantity, to state the obvious. And quality can take a very long time: it's not as though research includes a Eureka bell to alert everyone that it's quality research. Besides, quality research is often contrarian, and the contrarian path is rarely the careerist's path. For example, research extolling the virtues of tax cuts would not be career enhancing in some quarters, while research extolling the virtues of falling asset prices would not be career enhancing in others. Infidels are to be punished not rewarded. It takes a very good Straussian to be a successful contrarian. So quantity it is, and quantity it will remain.

Wokeness enthusiasm assessments seem more likely. Perhaps presented as “objective” by being based on an automated Social Credit Score by Facebook or Google.

Sounds good to me! Engineers are always great at self-cucking by coming up with new technologies that end up being used to cuck them!

So, Nature is basically saying they should do like economics & finance? Where researchers aim to publish a small number of high-quality papers in extremely selective journals? Nobody in econ/finance ever asks "how many papers have you published?" They say, "Where did you publish?" or "Where's your last article?"

As nice as it is to hear that Nature thinks Econ is doing it right, I don't think our model is the best. See the recent brouhaha discussed by James Heckman et al. And as Rayward said, quality is hard to measure. There is ample evidence that any two reviewers will assess quality of a paper very differently.

Our problem - that mundane work like replications are too highly incentivised.


"Provosts might not be able to read, but they can count..."

What can "impact" possibly mean, when the bulk of published academic output is never even read?

Given how politicized academia already is, this just seems like a way for the modern Maoists to liquidate the neo-Trotskyites.

I think he's referring to the metrics issued by the Institute for Scientific Information. ISI at one time refused to publish 'impact factor' for arts and humanities, maintaining it was an invalid measure for those fields.

I think we should actually move from a tenure system to a long-term contract system, as that would entail a better set of trade-offs. When courts eliminated mandatory retirement ages, the tenure system went from "has problems, but functions" to "totally dysfunctional."

1. Incorporate into state law a mandate to retire once a faculty member is eligible for full Social Security, eligible for Medicare, and has contributed to TIAA-CREF for 40 years, pro-rating periods of p/t employment.

2. Limit by law tenured slots to 35% of the FTE on the faculty.

3. Debar by law applications for tenure from any faculty member under the age of 45 and with less than 12 years f/t service.

4. Debar by law hiring-to-tenure bar for endowed chairs, and, again, limit these to faculty who are a minimum of 45 years of age and have been contributing to TIAA-CREF for 12 years (pro-rating p/t contributions).

5. Limit the part-time slots to clinical faculty in occupational schools, to one slot in unsegmented departments, and one slot per segment in a segmented department. Provide a statutory definition of what is a segmented discipline.

6. Put the rest of the faculty on renewable contracts, with some on contracts < 7 semesters and others on 7-12 semester contracts. Mandate that terminal contracts be in duration a function of one's total service at an institution.

7. Provide transitional benefits for terminated faculty.

What an absurdly detailed, arbitrarily precise, and just plain stupid list. Puke.

IOW, it suggests taking away from Barkley something he values. BOO YAH!

Or you could scale back the tenure system or get rid of it entirely. Just have all professors on multi-year, renewable contracts. If you're worried about professors being too liable to being fired to unpopular opinions, then make the contracts robust, such that they can't be broken without the college incurring a huge financial penalty or with the professor violating a specific set of rules, such as committing fraud or murder. The witch hunts against professors are almost always short in duration and intensity, so they won't last until the contract is up for renewal. The problem with tenure is that a school has usually seven years to decide whether they want to commit to this person for about 30 years, which is almost impossible to determine, hence why you have all this absurdity about what criteria to use. To give an analogous example, the rate of spousal abuse and general marital misery was higher when divorce was basically impossible.

Or: "How to begin to address post-secondary career insecurities" (without even examining clear indications of post-secondary academic corruption across the US courtesy of the NCAA, courtesy of inspired alumni and alumnae, and courtesy of numerous philanthropic donors to business and law schools).

Or: "How to enhance and enforce the academic captivity of American 'culture'". (It's hardly enough that Americans face an academic captivity of letters: academics must be helped in their ceaseless efforts to inform and control all cultural discourse, to limit legitimate dissent against prevailing academic interests, to steer pliant Americans to conform to academic notions of Truth, Justice, and other unattainable ideals, given current circumstances.)

Or: "How to reward academic elites for their inestimable service to the interests of the elites residing in the DC-to-Boston Corridor". (Are the class interests of our elites residing within the DC-to-Boston Corridor ever threatened as long as the public discourse managed jointly by our corrupt and corrupting Media Establishment and our lying and spying Tech sector is no more substantive or serious than what issues daily from our class of cognitive clowns, intellectual idiots, drive-by journalists, and rational lunatics?)

"Tenure: the post-secondary academic's springboard to a steady career in entertainment".

Bing! Thread winner!

How about TFE (tenure for everyone).

There should be minimum requirements, say, two years of employment without commission of sexual assault or a mass shooting.

Dishwashers and home healthcare workers should be able to get tenure.

It it's good, everyone gets it - social justice!!!

Free tuition and free tenure! Hurrah, Hurrah, Hurrah

Oh gag, a post about tenure brings on a flood of inane proposals to get rid of tenure and how to do it from people who have no idea what is protected by it. So where I am some time ago a president engaged in unwise and outright corrupt practices. He was eventually forced out, but before that a group of productive and tenured faculty members openly criticized his conduct. He then complained to the Board of Visitors about how he could not fire these troublesome people because they had tenure and how he wished he was like a business CEO, which most of the Board members were, so he could just fire whomever he wanted to whenever he wanted to.

In theory, if tenure goes, pay should increase to compensate for higher job insecurity. In UK not too long ago they eliminated tenure but they did not increase pay. I am unaware of anybody arguing that British academia has become some wonderland of relevant productivity.

As for the article, I am not impressed. A "Rule of Five" looks like its own arbitraty number. As it is, in most teunre and promotion cases I am aware of (and I have had to write a lot of outside letters on these over the years), candidates generally write letters describing their own work and its significance. This latter seems to be what several of the links want: tell us the significance, or "Impact" (current nauseating buzzword on my campus by administrators, which this article looks to be hyping further the fad for). So, I am not sure what purpose is servrd by focusing on these letters to the exclusion of looking at some of these bibliometrics.

As for those bibliometrics, yes, there are lots of people publising way too many papers that are minor varioations on each other, although I think this may be worse in the hard sciences than in econ. But at least one measure of "impact" is there that these articles seem to dismiss: citations. Why do citations not show impact? Maybe they do not iff the only impact one allows to count is some public policy impact, as implied in at least one of the links (the one by people at a med school in Utrecht). I note that in much of academia policy impact is viewed as part of service, one third of the trinity of teaching, research, service, although granted that in many places the only thing that counts is research. But bottom line, I think that while citations are not a perfect measure, they are a very good measure of intellectual impact, if not necessarily policy impact. It is, frankly, a much better measure than the rank of the journal where an article appeared, or the opnion of one reviewer blathering away, who might have his or her own weird bias or agenda. Citations are publicly available, and I think that they are seriously meaningful. Discouraging assessors from looking at them is in my opinion as rankly stupid piece of advice. Frankly, Nature should have rejected this idiotic paper.

" idea what is protected by it."

Academic freedom? Do you mean the freedom to keep your mouth shut and play the game until you grab the tenure brass ring? Or the freedom to stop working once you have tenure? I had two math professors in the latter category - one a notorious slum lord and sexual predator and the other a pot head and expert user of psychedelics.

Yes, EdR, defending academic freedom does bear the price of tolerating deadwood. I mentioned the case of standing up to bad administrators because it is a part of aacademic freedom rarely mentioned. It is also to bring to the attention of all here that when one ends tenure one is putting all power into the hands of these administratorrs, many of whom are incompetent or worse.

As it is, of course, the more important part of acaademic freedom does indeed have to do with protecting unpopulare ideas. I note that in fact in the history of the develoment of tenure in the US, sme of the most important cases involved economists who were fired or threatened with being fired for their ideas.

Yes, EdR, defending academic freedom does bear the price of tolerating deadwood. I

You don't deserve any autonomy, Barkley.

Five papers in five years is, in my opinion, a very low level of productivity. Quantity matters too. It can be very hard to get people to understand your work and thus evaluate quality if you do anything difficult, novel or contrarian.

In economics, 1 very good paper at top Journal level of quality written in 5 years is better than 20 crappy papers. For instance, Jesse Perla, already a very successful economist, has 2 published papers over the last 5 years but they are excellent papers.

So 5 papers in 5 years is already regarded as a large quantity of publications per unit of time in the econ profession.

In economics there is no issue with "paper counting", as the focus is on quality: two or three top 5s is better than 30 mediocre papers. I guess the issue is that overeliance of the profession on the journal rankings instead of more accurate measures of quality.

So, which is it, RafaelR? How many papers in "top 5" journals or ones that have quality by some other measure? I would contend that indeed there is a very obvious alternative measure of quality, although it is one that this silly article Tyler has linked to, and the others, sneer at: citations. There are plenty of papers appearing in top 5 journals in economics that do not amount to much, and we know this because they get few citaionts. OTOH, there are papers that appear in other outlets that end up being highly influential and getting lots of citations. More than one paper that ended up being the basis for somebody getting a Nobel prize was in a non-top 5 journal or even in a book, which do not "count" any more in most economics departments.

That was one virtue of that link from the med school, noting a paper that appeared in some essentially popular outlet not even refereed, which ended up changing a medical practice for the better. The econ profession is far too much taken with obsession with publising in the top 5.

However, for tenure it must be noted that generally not enough time has passed for citation records to be all that clear, so there is a much greater tendency to focus on the rank of journals (and the number) that publications appear in. As one moves to higher levels, promotion to full professor or to a chaired professorship, or to a JBC award or Nobel Prize, it is citations andd other measures of impact that count more, not where publications appeared or how many there have been.

Well, we know where Barkley isn't placing papers.

candidates present their best five papers over the past five years, accompanied by a description of the research, its impact and their individual contribution.

This basically says, yes, we're in favor of reform, but no, even under the new improved system, you should not actually expect us to read your papers to evaluate them. When the system relies on you to explain the "impact" of your work, what exactly is being selected for?

The moral hazard endemic in tenure is sufficient reason to eliminate it. I would call economists who favor tenure hypocrites, but for the fact it deftly illustrates that homo economicus is unboundedly selfish.

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