There are bad people out there, and promotion is not automatic (even for those with solid records).
I was approved for promotion to (full) professor this past year, effective this week.
Sixteen years ago I was a few years into being an associate professor, and on track for this promotion within 3 years.
However, I made a lifestyle choice to move to a less prestigious school in a more desirable location.
I want to be very clear: I prefer the students here, I prefer my colleagues, I am happier with this university, and I love that I’ve had a chance to live my life in the magical scenery of southern Utah.
Having said that, unscrupulous administrators used deadweight faculty to rubber stamp a ceiling on my career.
I am not the first person this has happened to, but here’s what I learned.
To entice me to come here, I was given three years credit towards tenure and rank advancement. That offer was honored when I received tenure.
At that time, I heard through the grapevine that a particular administrator did not approve of me. I confronted them directly, and was given a weak answer about their concerns. My advice to others is if an administrator voices concerns about you, get an offer from another school. I didn’t because I liked my job and where I live.
After encouragement from senior faculty, I eventually applied for promotion that had to be approved by that same administrator. Everyone was shocked when I was shot down. Except me: I’d been told I’d be shot down.
I found out the hard way that there was no enforcement mechanism at my school to make sure I was credited for those three years when applying for promotion. In fact, over half of my academic career went unmentioned in my denial. Some people would sue over that, but without a policy stating how that offer was supposed to be honored, there seemed to be little point. My advice to others is that if you receive an offer that cannot be immediately confirmed (like, say, a salary boost) that you check the university’s policies and procedures for enforcement mechanisms. I didn’t.
I also found out the hard way that numerical teaching evaluations are not written in stone, and that alternative numbers can be added to the front of your promotion package. My advice is to make sure there is a policy at your school for retroactively voiding statements and votes made on the basis of conflicting information. The evidence was on my side, but there was no mechanism for adjudicating an “I said/they said” sort of argument.
I also found out the hard way that even objective counts of publications are meaningless. In my case, I reported that I had 12 pubs in my current rank. An administrator added a letter noting that 4 pubs in rank is not enough for promotion. Note that if I had 12, saying 4 is not enough has skirted the fact enough to not actually be a lie. My advice is to make sure there is a policy allowing review of statements between each stage of your promotion process.
I also have some advice for faculty serving on LRT committees particularly at the very first level: include numbers in your statement documenting the hurdle that you feel a candidate has cleared.* It’s only natural for successive levels to focus most on the executive summaries at the top of the package. All my numbers were correct, and in my package. But I found out that it’s the first person to add their numbers to the top of the package that counts for succeeding levels. Multiple levels of approval counted for nothing when the next page added didn’t state a confirmation that my numbers were solid.
Finally, let me add that when your spouse works at the same school, this puts a damper on your willingness to be confrontational with administration.
* If you’re serving on an LRT committee, you should also question the math of others. When I was rejected, I was given no clear guidance on what hurdle I needed to clear before reapplying. Crunching the statements of administrators and existing policies suggested that senior faculty had approved a position specific to me that I needed 17 publications in rank to be promoted. Five of the six senior faculty who signed that decision did not have that many publications in their careers. Very few people at my school do.