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Campus Women Lead

Spring 2012

Volume 41
Number 1

Making the Academy Inclusive of Women of Color Faculty


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Stephanie Luster-Teasley spacer
Stephanie Luster-Teasley, center, conducts a lab experiment with students. (Photo by Charles Watkins)

Making Tenure and Promotion More Transparent for Underrepresented Faculty
By Stephanie Luster-Teasley, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

I recently completed the tenure process, and like many junior faculty members, I found that tenure was a moving target at the end of an obstacle course marked by uncertainty and politics. Junior faculty know that in order to qualify for tenure, we must balance teaching, service, and research. But we often find it unnerving to gauge how well we have performed in these areas in our colleagues’ eyes.

Anxiety about negotiating the tenure process can be particularly acute for those who are underrepresented in their fields, such as women of all races in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), or men and women of color across disciplines. Despite the progress that we hope has been made in diversifying the academy, we may be concerned that unconscious bias could affect our tenure reviews, or we may fall into the trap of the “imposter syndrome” and feel that our success was accidental. Variations in the tenure process based on institutional type can add an additional layer of uncertainty, with institutions assigning different levels of importance to teaching, research, and service depending on their priorities.

With these variable factors in mind, institutions and faculty members can work together to make the tenure and promotion process easier to track and gauge, allowing more opportunities for faculty to self-correct their progress. By making tenure more transparent, institutions can not only support the careers of women and people of color, but can also equalize the process for all junior faculty.

Four Provisions to Improve the Tenure Process

Institutions can lay the groundwork for improved transparency with four simple provisions:

1. Junior Faculty Development Seminars. Workshops or lunch seminars sponsored by the institution or department and facilitated by senior faculty are valuable professional development opportunities for new faculty. These forums should cover topics such as teaching tools available on campus, methods for improving pedagogy, grantsmanship processes, and time management. Seminars should provide opportunities for junior faculty to meet, network, and form support groups, as well as to connect with senior faculty and establish informal mentoring networks. These seminars should be open to all faculty, but they may include targeted elements (such as sessions and tracks to address additional challenges female faculty face in male-dominated disciplines).

2. Support for Faculty Attendance at Professional Development Conferences. National and regional conferences can offer additional professional development and mentoring opportunities for women and people of color. At these forums, underrepresented faculty can share common challenges and the skills they used to overcome them. These conferences can provide opportunities to form support groups, network across disciplines, build social networks, and establish life-long connections, all of which can improve persistence and retention. For faculty in the sciences, the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Preparing Critical Faculty for the Future project, the National Science Foundation’s Career Life Balance Initiative and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers (ADVANCE) program, and the National Institute for Faculty Equity (NIFE) all offer events that fulfill these functions.

3. Training for Promotion, Tenure, and Reappointment (PTR) Committees and Administrators. Some progressive universities have followed the corporate example, offering diversity workshops for their employees to deepen their knowledge and sensitivity. When offered for PTR committee members and administrators, these interventions can not only benefit underrepresented faculty, but can refocus and equalize the review process for all candidates. Administrators and committee members may harbor subconscious biases that stem from their own identities, experiences, and expectations. Awareness of these biases can help to minimize their impact on PTR reviews. Committee members and administrators should also be aware of how assumptions about identity can affect faculty assignments. For example, women may be assigned higher teaching or service loads, which may in turn hinder their research progress. Review committees should thus take teaching and service loads into consideration when reviewing research progress and output, and administrators should proactively develop equitable practices for assigning teaching and service across all faculty levels.

4. Sincere Discussions about Career Plans and University Expectations. Tenure evaluation has both quantitative and qualitative elements. Junior faculty members are expected to compile portfolios that demonstrate visible and tangible work products, while conversations that occur during review committee meetings can weigh heavily on whether senior faculty members argue for or against a candidate’s tenure application.  To make these elements more transparent, administrators and mentors can engage in sincere discussions about expectations with junior faculty members. Institutions may not have firm requirements for the number of funded proposals or scholarly papers faculty need by the time of tenure review, but senior faculty should nonetheless be able to help junior faculty understand what is considered low, average, or high performance in these areas.  

A New Tool for Transparency

My research on professional development for women and people of color has led me to develop rubrics to track career progression and facilitate the sincere discussions described above. Rubrics designed to gauge faculty service, teaching, and research from year to year can help faculty measure their progress and redirect their focus or address concerns as necessary. Faculty can use these rubrics in periodic meetings with mentors, career coaches, or administrators to determine whether their performance in key areas is progressing in keeping with their institution’s standards and their personal career goals.

The rubrics can help faculty measure their personal and institutional progress in several key areas:

Tenure Category

Personal Gauge

University Gauge


Are you teaching at the course levels you want (i.e. undergraduate vs. graduate) and in content areas consistent with your career goals?

Are you carrying a heavy teaching load?

Do your course evaluations indicate that you are teaching effectively?

Is your teaching considered to be at a low, average, or high level compared to your university’s expectations and the work of your faculty colleagues?

Student Management and Advising

How many students are you advising?

Are you advising the level of students necessary to progress in your career (i.e. bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral students)?

Are your advising levels low, average, or high compared to your university’s expectations?

(for faculty in STEM)

Are you submitting successful proposals to funding agencies?

Are there obstacles that limit your ability to write and submit proposals?

Are you writing proposals and receiving funding at a level that is consistent with your career goals?

Are you submitting proposals at a low, average, or high level compared to your university’s expectations?

Are you being funded at a level consistent with university expectations?


Are you able to successfully submit articles?

Are there obstacles that limit your ability to write and submit articles?

Are you submitting articles at a level that is consistent with your career goals?

Are you submitting articles at a low, average, or high level compared to your university’s expectations?

Knowledge and Research Expansion

Are you receiving professional development opportunities consistent with what you need to further your career?

Does the university provide professional development for faculty or facilitate participation in outside professional development events? Are you taking advantage of these opportunities?


Are you performing service in your department, university, and community?

Are you able to balance teaching, research, and service?

Are your levels of service low, average, or high compared to your university’s expectations?

Question for Advisors and Administrators: Is the amount of service assigned to the faculty member low, average, or high, and could this be related to his/her gender or ethnicity?

The six rubrics I have developed help faculty respond to the questions outlined above by dividing each category into five descriptor levels ranging from lowest achievement (level 1) to highest (level 5). By referring to these rubrics once each semester in conversation with mentors and advisors, faculty members can gauge whether or not they have progressed to the next level in each category. To learn more about the rubrics, contact me at


My own experience suggests that the tenure process can become more transparent for faculty members and thus more beneficial for both them and their universities. During my tenure process, I was able to attend junior faculty workshops and workshops that focused on increasing persistence and retention of women of color and other minorities in STEM. I also built a network of formal and informal mentors who encouraged me and provided guidance about university expectations for teaching, research, and service. I cannot express how much these experiences contributed to helping me remain in academia.  

Departments and institutions can easily implement many of the tools discussed above to help junior faculty, particularly women and minorities, succeed in their careers. When institutions mentor and mindfully develop their faculty instead of allowing junior faculty to leave academia disappointed and frustrated, everybody wins. Simple, upfront investments in transparent practices can make a world of difference in the quality of an institution’s faculty and ultimately increase the number of underrepresented faculty members, in STEM and across disciplines.

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