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Case 20. Early Tenure Evaluation


The Department of Sociology is located within a medium-sized public university and has an MA program as well as a large undergraduate program. The student body is diverse. The department consists of 10 sociologists: four full professors (including the chair), three associate professors, and three assistant professors. All but two are male; one - the chair - is Hispanic, the rest of the men are white. The two females are both assistant professors; one is African-American, the other white.

According to tradition, tenure and promotion to associate professor require demonstrated competence in both teaching and research. Competence in teaching is typically measured by positive student evaluations. Competence in research is measured by publications or funded research (the latter is less common at this institution). Faculty are formally evaluated by the departmental tenure committee at the beginning of the third and sixth years, with the sixth year being the final year for deciding tenure. Informal evaluations, by the chair, take place annually.

The African-American woman has just been evaluated by the tenure committee, in her third year. She is popular among both undergraduate and graduate students, and directs more masters theses than any other faculty member. She spends long hours in her office mentoring and guiding students. During her three years thus far, she has regularly presented at regional professional meetings, and once at the ASA. She has submitted several papers to journals, but none have yet been accepted. Her only publications to date are a few encyclopedia entries. She has not participated in any externally funded research.

The departmental tenure committee has recommended that she be given a positive recommendation, but with the caution that she must dramatically improve her publication/research record before the final review. The department chair, who makes an independent recommendation to the dean, has not yet made his recommendation. However, he has made his feelings quite clear. Even before the tenure committee made its recommendation, he told several colleagues (including a couple outside the department) that “she is a lost cause” and that the department should “cut its losses,” terminate her appointment, and begin the hiring process. The faculty member in question is aware of some of the statements that the chair has made to colleagues, both inside and outside the department.


  1. What are the main issues in this situation?
  2. What ethical principals, if any, have been breached?
  3. What courses of action might the faculty member take?

Reflect on the above questions and form your own answers before clicking the Discussion key to review the commentary provided with this case.