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"At the faculty or university level, no one will know the personal reputation of the letter writer"

This is definitely true. For that reason, someone from a big name ivy league school is more valuable, all else equal, than someone from State U. Even if Prof. Smith from State U is the best known scholar in the field, Prof. Jones from Harvard will get more weight once your file goes outside your field.

Still better are things like 'Department Chair' or 'Class of '53 Endowed Professor'. These things add weight to the letter that Associate Prof. Smith from State U wouldn't have.

"A strong letter from a mid-ranked academic is better than an equivocal letter from a highly-respected academic. "

This is also true, and must be traded off with reputation of the writer's institution. To continue my example above, I might still choose Prof. Smith from State U if he can write an informative and enthusiastic letter. If Jones's letter from Harvard makes it sound like he barely knows you, Smith would be better.

Kevin - yup, I agree, these are difficult trade-offs, and there are no hard and fast rules. It depends on the characteristics of the candidate, too - the person who is the right referee for one person might not be the right referee for another.

'Round my old university a nomination for the Student Union Teaching Award, better yet an actual award, was golden for tenure. Departments liked getting a good teaching prof if they could get one and it was an outstanding characteristic possessed by few candidates.

Complete introverts who can't teach through lack of "pulpit presence" (as it is known in another trade whose business is words and ideas) are common enough, but in a university setting where lectures are required, it is a definite disadvantage.

Someone wrote to me via email and asked about service.

Here's a scenario that I've seen play out more than once in my university career, in more than one unit:

Junior person is hired. For one reason or another the junior person ends up getting stuck in a major administrative role immediately - the more senior members of the department have already taken a turn at being undergrad supervisor, or are incapable of successfully completing any administrative task, or are impossible to work with, or just simply say no to all such requests.

Said junior person does an excellent job with service and teaching - and consequently has no time for their own research. What happens? Everyone tut-tuts and says "junior faculty shouldn't be over-burdened with administrative work." But the fact remains: no research=no tenure.

Other than that:

Service is typically, in my experience, infra-marginal -I can't personally remember a single case where exemplary service has pulled a file over the top, or lack of service has dragged it down. At the same time, it's wise to document it throughly, and have a short paragraph in the cover letter saying something along the lines of "I do my bit." Documenting training of students and graduate supervision is extremely important; that's part of being a scholar.

Every vote counts, and "below the line" stuff could get you another vote or two on the faculty or university committee.

Thinking about it: tenure should be hard to achieve. If you're a shoo-in for tenure, then it means that you were underplaced on the job market. Ideally you want to be at a university where you just meet the standards for tenure - that means you made the best possible job market match.

As economists, does the institution of tenure not strike you as inefficient and guild-esque? Wouldn't it make more sense for academics to specialize within a department (the rising share of adjunct hires are doing this implicitly), rather than balancing their roles? How do you incentivize faculty to remain productive after they have gotten tenure (and even moreso, after they make full professor)? In marginal tenure cases, wouldn't it be much easier to give somebody additional time in order to meet their requirements, instead of effectively forcing them to leave (necessitating a job search)?

hosertohoosier - "Wouldn't it make more sense for academics to specialize within a department (the rising share of adjunct hires are doing this implicitly), rather than balancing their roles?"

This is tricky. I teach public economics. I can't be an effective teacher of the subject, even at an undergraduate level, without being somewhat research active. The subject is constantly changing, and it's not like there's some expert out there who is going to provide me with course materials - I *am* that expert, and this blog is where you an find those course materials. But if you look at, say, the UK or the US, it's clear that there is a trend towards greater specialization, and there is definitely pressure to create a more differentiated (and hence more specialized) system here - at least in Ontario.

"How do you incentivize faculty to remain productive after they have gotten tenure (and even moreso, after they make full professor)?"

This is why there should be a standard retirement age for university professors, even if no one else in the economy faces a standard retirement age. The alternative, is a substantial weakening of tenure protections. The person tenured at 30 may be a drag on the university by age 80, and there has to be some way to persuade people to leave.

"In marginal tenure cases, wouldn't it be much easier to give somebody additional time in order to meet their requirements"

This is very tricky. If a person can't be an effective performer when they have massive incentives to perform, how likely are they to be an effective performer in the absence of such incentives? I'm not a big fan of such extensions.


Interesting fact, canadian professors do not face mandatory change to "emeritus" with the standard retirement age.

hosertohoosier

with respect to tenure.
When I look at this from a German perspective, where the unions constantly push, that an apprentice gets a "permanent" job age 20, an engineer gets it at age 25 -30, and then extremely intelligent folks going for professorship have to wait until 40 (average, official data), until they have that degree of social stability to found a family and buy/built a house. Who can do this, without rich parents ?

(Future) Professors have legitimate interests, too.

"Like a good lawyer, one selects the metric that produces the highest ranking."

Let me put in a plug for citation analysis.

Publishing in highly-cited journals is the goal that most economists learned from their professors. However, most of a journal's citations are generated by a small proportion of their articles. Even at top journals, the ratio can be something like 80%/20%. Publishing in a top journal therefore tells me that an editor liked your work, perhaps because you're one of the few working on their pet subject. That's only weakly correlated with having an impact on the profession.

Citation analysis instead looks at how widely cited your work is. Tools like ISI, ScienceDirect, CitEc, Google Scholar and Publish and Perish (free from www.harzing.com) make it easy to tabulate how frequently your work has been cited (esp. if your name is not too common, like Lucas or Gordon, etc.) You'll probably want to ignore autocitations (citations by authors to their own works) to convince readers that you didn't overtly manipulate the statistics. If you've been cited in diverse areas or by leading reseachers, it's worth highlighting. View and Download statistics from sites like Ideas or SSRN help to show the robustness of those results.

Citation rates vary widely by discipline, so everything Frances said about the hazards at the faculty and university levels applies here too. Compare your results to those of other recent candidates in your field.

Simon - great advice.

"Compare your results to those of other recent candidates in your field." - but stay positive. The point is that you're great, not that they're bad.

"Tools like ISI, ScienceDirect, CitEc, Google Scholar and Publish and Perish"

If these tools generate high rankings for your work, that's great. At the same time, they do have some well-known limitations. E.g. North American journals are over-represented in ISI, within econ some fields are bigger than others so, e.g. the top public finance journal has a much lower ranking that the top labour journal. That's why putting things in context by, e.g., comparing to other recent candidates is important.

Frances: "your intermediate micro evaluations might be less than the overall departmental mean, but perhaps they're higher than the average intermediate micro teaching evaluation"

My biggest concern with using teaching evaluations (from students) for the purpose of tenure/promotion is that this information (results for similar courses taught by others) is not generally available (not in my university anyway - and I assume the reason is to "protect the privacy" of those other instructors). Having taught a wide variety of courses at both the undergrad and grad levels, I can honestly say that the variation in my evaluation results is almost entirely explained by the "attractiveness" of the course (i.e., how interested the students are, how hard they are expected to work, etc.). For example, I am quite confident that I actually do a much better job at teaching upper-level courses than lower-level courses (I'm better at expressing myself using high-level math than hand-waving), yet my results for the lower-level courses are uniformly higher (on the other hand, I am fairly confident that my results for those upper-level courses are higher than what other instructors of similar courses in my department receive).

Econometrician -

- it is true that teaching evaluations are not generally available, but a tenure candidate's teaching evaluations are typically placed in the file
- a lot of departments will publish summary teaching evaluation info e.g. average at first year, average at second year - and sometimes more info can be obtained by talking to departmental administrators, people in offices of institutional research etc (the importance of building good relationships with administrators cannot be overstated).
- tenure committees will evaluate teaching on the basis of student evaluations if that is the only information in front of the committee. The way to diminish the weight placed on student evaluations is to provide an alternative source of information. Most universities have some kind of education development centre that provides teaching mentors etc, and it's often possible to get a peer evaluation from someone in the EDC. Sometimes individual student comments can be used to paint a coherent picture of the tough, super-rigorous challenging prof e.g. "this is the most challenging course I've ever taken, demanding, but I learned a lot." This is where a statement of teaching can be useful.

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