It is summer, and many of my tenured colleagues around the country are writing external review letters evaluating the scholarship of candidates for tenure or promotion. In an era with a shrinking proportion of academic jobs holding the chance of tenure, it becomes more important for those of us who hold tenure to understand the role of the tenure and promotion process.1 This blog entry has a brief description of the role of external review letters, the advice I generally give colleagues when they have the chance to nominate external reviewers for either the tenure/promotion-to-associate step or promotion-to-full step, and what is important for an external review letter to contain.
The brief, tl;dr version of my plea to letter-writers:
- Spend 80% of your time/words explaining how you look at the candidate’s vitae and scholarship in the context of your and the candidate’s area, written for fellow academics who are in other disciplines — either a college/university-wide faculty committee or a provost may treat your letter as critical to the decision. Trust that a provost and faculty can count articles; what your readers need is your disciplinary (or interdisciplinary!) perspective.
- Read the writing samples and comment on them — explain what you learned from them, or if necessary, why you did not learn from them.
- Update your vitae before sending it with your review letter, and include everything that puts your position in context — that is, brag to make clear your expertise as a member of the field. Do not omit editorial board service, service as a program officer in a funding agency, or the like.
- Keep your tone civil.
- Do not accept an invitation to write a letter if there is a clear, discoverable conflict of interest and/or if the candidate explicitly asked you to be willing to be an external reviewer.
- … and not botch it through carelessness. [↩]