The Tenure Package

Today I submitted my tenure package: a three binder set of documents about my teaching, scholarship, and service over the past seven years at Seton Hill University. Though the process is difficult, it feels liberating to have it out of my hands…and the process of assembling the portfolios and reflecting on my work was much more rewarding than I thought it would be.

A lot of advice about getting ready for tenure is aimed at keeping good records and developing your career early in the game, so that you’ll “survive the tenure track” and have excellent material ready for the tenure package when the time comes around to submit it. But little help is available out there on preparing the package itself. Obviously, one should turn to colleagues and administrators on campus for assistance and mentoring every step of the way. But I did find a very good article to recommend. In “Making Your Case: Strategies for an Effective Tenure Package,” Kirk Martini compares a professor’s career to “building a city” and the tenure package as a series of “maps and guidebooks” that escort the evaluator through it. That’s a great analogy. Organization is everything. I spent a lot of time not only composing a narrative overview of my work, but also added brief narrative cover pages to function as introductions to each section of the portfolio (for example, I included a brief bio for the section where the letter from my “external reviewer” will go; for the “course materials” section (aka teaching portfolio), I described why I chose the classes I chose to represent). These mini-intros also cross-reference different parts of the portfolio if I felt it prudent, so that the committee will be invited to draw connections. I also used construction paper with labels to subdivide different sections to make the organization of material clearer (e.g., for the “scholarship” binder, I tab-divided the material by genre (articles, presentations, fiction, poetry, and new media) and then subdivided those with black separator pages (e.g., “articles” is subdivided with pages labeled “instructional essays” and “book reviews”).

There’s a lot of curiosity about how weblogs relate to tenure; since blogs aren’t “peer reviewed,” many scholars are skittish about incorporating blogs into their package. At the same time, faculty who blog claim that it’s a form of “open effort academics” where the formative process of scholarship is shared among a discourse community. I tend to agree with the latter, obviously (otherwise Pedablogue wouldn’t exist!). And since I am loosely attached to our New Media Journalism program at Seton Hill, it’s part of my work and I didn’t bat an eye about including websites in my binder. I included a section of “new media” under scholarship, and included screen captures of Pedablogue and other websites I’ve designed; otherwise, a few selected entries from Pedablogue went under a subdivision called “Scholarship of Teaching,” alongside some articles I’ve published about pedagogy.

I think the best part of the process was sorting through my old teaching files and realizing how much some of my routine courses (like composition and literary criticism) have evolved over the years. It’s hard to communicate that evolution in the tenure package, but I’ve come to realize that a lot of these “hoops” that academics are asked to jump through are really opportunities for reflection and self-discovery that prompt renewal. As far as the outcome of what lies on the other side of the proverbial hoop, wish me luck — decisions won’t be final until the Winter.

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Michael Arnzen

Professor of English, Seton Hill University.

9 thoughts on “The Tenure Package”

  1. I’m finding the letters that I’ve written over the years asking for recommendations have been good summaries (not that I’m up for tenure) and writing them helped me to articulate the progress and directions of my teaching and research.

  2. Need a good word from a Student? Use this quote if they are a slowing top and it is still unsure which side they will fall on.
    “Dr.(mmm, it just sounds right) Arnzen’s dedication to the art of teaching is only surpassed by his maniacal laugh.”
    Short but a real crowd winner.
    Good luck

  3. Muhaha! Thanks, Stephan! Take heart: every student evaluation I’ve received for the past four years is in my tenure package, so your voice is represented.
    Thanks for the kind words, too, Dennis and Timna! You make a good point, Timna: save everything and review it. I re-read such banal instruments as the requests for funding I’d made over the years, for example, and it helped trigger a lot of memories about things I’d done.

  4. If you are interested, there is a large group of university professors and teachers out there doing portfolio work and writing about it. It is even a SIG at AERA. There are a number of good books — Lyons – Portfolio in Hand is a great beginning. Best of luck to you in your journey.

  5. Congratulations! I don’t know how on earth anyone can put-up with the waiting. I would be in need of some sort of medication or libation. 🙂

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