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Essays on Tenure

Notes on Tenure and Promotion for New Faculty Members

Scott Colley

I. Teaching, Professional Development, and Service
     (1) What do we look for in a good teacher?
     (2) Scholarship and Professional Development
     (3) Serving the College and the Community
II. Graphing six years of hard work
III. Why do most good colleges require scholarship? It starts in graduate school
IV. Does the College value scholarship and ignore other important contributions?
V. Who will tell you how you are doing?
VI. Are our standards reasonable?
VII. Who can earn tenure at Berry?

"Notes on Tenure and Promotion for New Faculty Members" should be read in the context of a companion piece, "Why Do We Have a Tenure System?" These notes are based upon two presentations I made to untenured faculty members in the fall semester of 1999 and are intended neither as a substitute for the Faculty and Staff Handbook nor as a contract with faculty members.


I. Teaching, Professional Development, and Service:

Tenure-track faculty members must meet institutional standards for teaching, professional development (usually called "scholarship"), and service before they can expect to be appointed to a tenured position.

(1) What do we look for in a good teacher?

Teaching is a craft that occasionally borders on being an art. Not everyone can master a craft of any kind, much less teaching, and certainly artistry is limited to only a few. We seek faculty members who can master the craft, and therefore we expect a high level of teaching from all instructors. Perhaps the greatest requirement is a person's desire to teach well. We assume that people who want to teach well can master the elements of good teaching.

At Berry, as at other good colleges, we evaluate good teaching through use of student evaluations of courses, peer evaluations, annual performance reviews, and the self-evaluation of faculty members. Also of interest is how successful a professor's students are in various competitions. Moreover, we look for signs of energetic and imaginative engagement in teaching: who is offering freshman seminars, writing courses, honors courses, collaborative work, and new courses? Who is directing independent study and research, and whose students are presenting papers or posters at conferences?

We look for all of the above, with special interest in a young instructor's participation in teaching workshops, particularly the Writing Across the Curriculum workshops, and we extend significant credit to a professor who offers courses that meet the college writing requirement.

We have long held workshops and other programs in support of good teaching and have recently organized a Center for Teaching and Learning at Berry to help instructors meet their goals for excellent classroom teaching.

(2) Scholarship and Professional Development:

The life of the mind is lived by seeking new knowledge and inviting peer review of one's conclusions. We therefore expect published articles and scientific papers in refereed regional and national journals, juried artistic creations and performances, collaborative work with colleagues and with students, books and book chapters, conference presentations and poster sessions, and textbooks. In Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professorate (1990), Ernest L. Boyer has written of the several dimensions of scholarship, and his analysis capably extends the scope of this discussion.

We also look to see what sort of work is in progress. What projects does a professor have underway in addition to the work that has been completed and published? What is the quality and potential of this work in progress? What works have been read by peers and are now under revision? What kind of research plan does the faculty member have for future years?

During the sixth year of a faculty member's service to the college, we must evaluate what has been accomplished. We also look at the relationship between work that is in progress and the body of peer-reviewed work that has been completed.

The key is quality and not quantity. What is the quality of the work that has been completed as well as undertaken during a six-year period? That said, the quality of one's performance could depend upon quantity in one special sense: is the body of work significant and substantial? Generally, dissertations have a certain length because the treatment of the subject is both broad and deep. In making tenure decisions, we similarly look for evidence of significant and substantial engagement in one's professional discipline, but we do not count articles or pages in print.

Writers of highly technical scientific papers usually do not include lay readers as part of their intended audience. Even in such cases, however, one can learn about the tenure candidate by looking at the methodology and the development of arguments even in otherwise inaccessible works. On the other hand, every candidate has ample opportunity to describe the scope and significance of his or her work in essay form for colleagues in other academic disciplines. Indeed, the candidate's own commentary is an extremely important part of the case for tenure.

(3) Serving the College and the Community:

The work of the college cannot be done unless everyone pitches in. Moreover, a vibrant college community cannot exist without active engagement of faculty and staff members. When faculty members do their part, they serve as models for ways we want our students to behave after graduation. Service in the wider community has a similar purpose. The old-fashioned term for good service is "good citizenship," active, thoughtful, and positive engagement in governance. At Berry, we particularly value academic advising, freshman advising, and participation in SOAR programs; participation in admissions programs; advising student groups as well as many other out-of-class interactions with students; service on significant committees on the departmental, school, and college levels; other departmental, school, and college duties; participation in civic organizations in the local community; and active engagement in professional and academic organizations locally and beyond. Although participation in freshman seminars is included under "teaching" in this outline, such participation is also a form of service, and one that is greatly valued. Active engagement in workshops and seminars that help instructors become better teachers is also a form of service. Service is the element that makes a college into a community.

When thinking about their service obligations, faculty members should ask themselves "How do I engage students beyond normal class hours?" as well as "How are my out-of-class efforts advancing the work of the college?" Indeed, one should ask "Am I working well with other members of the college community? Am I regarded as a good colleague?" Good answers to those questions usually mean that faculty members are meeting their service obligations.

Untenured faculty members must budget their time. Normally, the service of the newest untenured faculty member should not equal that of the busiest associate and full professors. All of us need to do our fair share, but untenured instructors should balance their efforts so that teaching and professional development receive adequate attention, particularly during their earliest years on the faculty. Department coordinators and deans of the schools should be able to advise untenured colleagues about the best investment in service obligations. Over a six-year period, however, every young faculty member will have ample opportunity to build a record of service to the college and the wider community.


II. Graphing six years of hard work:

Imagine a graph that is divided into six segments to represent each year of one's career during the six-year probationary period that leads up to a tenure decision. How can we graph a faculty member's activity in the three areas of teaching, professional development, and service? Is there a steady curve upward from year one through year six? What record of activity and accomplishment can one track over six years? Presumably, one is more engaged in college service in years five and six than in years one and two. Teaching evaluations should become more positive as the years go by. And scholarly activity should increase over the period of six years.

Sudden activity or accomplishment in year five or at the beginning of year six may not bode well. At Berry, we look for a pattern of professional accomplishment over a period of time, a pattern that promises similar performance in the future. This record of accomplishment helps the college predict who will remain energetic and engaged over a 30-year career following tenure. Tenure is not a guaranteed lifetime contract, but it represents an enormous commitment of Berry College to a faculty member's career in college teaching.


III. Why do most good colleges require scholarship? It starts in graduate school:

Joining the community of scholars implies a lifetime of seeking new knowledge -- or artistic production -- and submitting one's accomplishment to professional peers for evaluation. Defending the dissertation should be thought of as the first step in a lifetime of reading, thinking, research, writing, and publication.

When graduate students earn a doctorate or other terminal degree, we typically welcome them into "the community of scholars." That phrase is often a part of graduation ceremonies. Graduate education, notably at the doctoral level, challenges students to learn how to be a scholar and then to produce a piece of work that qualifies as scholarship. Throughout the advanced stages of graduate study, most of a student's attention is devoted to acquiring new knowledge and writing about it. In some graduate programs, performance or artistic creation replaces writing, but the principle is the same. Graduate students who concentrate upon studio art are expected to become practicing artists. Students of physics are expected to become practicing scientists who carry out advanced studies of their subject. Universities send young Ph.D. -- or Ed.D. or perhaps M.F.A -- recipients into the world fully prepared to continue the work they had done as advanced students.

The two major challenges a young scholar is likely to face are (1) completing and successfully defending the doctoral dissertation and (2) earning promotion and tenure. The two challenges are similar in that both require the completion of work within a limited period that passes the scrutiny of a panel of fellow professionals. Meeting peer standards for a body of work is a requirement of one's apprenticeship as a scholar and remains a requirement when young professionals launch their careers.

Some people say that doctoral studies prepare one to become a teacher, and hence scholarly productivity should not be required for tenure. The pertinent reply is "Why then do we hire Ph.D.s to do our teaching?" If successful completion of a research degree were not important, why would we insist that nearly every professor possess such a degree? We clearly are looking for teachers whose classroom work is nurtured by reading, writing, research, and publication. Because knowledge changes so quickly, we want our teachers to be prepared to change along with the subjects they teach. No one can be expected to know enough at age 30 to be able to teach until age 65. Engagement in continued learning is handled in many ways but particularly through active engagement in scholarship or performance. Moreover, peer review quickens the pulse rate and encourages intense engagement in one's field. In short, the judgment of one's peers assures the quality of thinking and writing that take place over a career.


IV. Does the College value scholarship and ignore other important contributions?

Some candidates for tenure fear that their overall work and extra efforts are not adequately valued because of the requirements for publication. Such people may wonder if scholarly productivity outweighs the many other good things they have contributed to the college community. And it is true that a tenure candidate who is very strong in service and is an accomplished teacher will be disappointed at tenure time if the record of research and scholarship does not meet college expectations.

Personal and professional lives are created out of choices. We choose how we will negotiate the obligations of personal life as well as those at our places of work. Significant choices are not morally neutral, nor are they neutral in other respects. Although it would not be wise to do so, candidates for tenure are free to choose to excel in teaching and service and not in scholarship. Or candidates could ignore teaching in order to concentrate upon research. The college has three requirements for tenure: teaching, scholarship, and service. If tenure is a goal, young professors must choose to meet the standards for all three criteria.


V. Who will tell you how you are doing?

Candidates for tenure will be well advised to heed the guidance and advice of their most respected and plain-speaking colleagues and particularly the dean of their school. When possible, it may be good to compare one's record of teaching, scholarship, and service to the records of others who have recently been granted tenure. Comparisons should not be based upon folklore but upon documentation. Moreover, the third-year review can be extremely useful.

A word to the wise: some departmental and school colleagues provide encouragement at the expense of providing exhortations for better performance. Some of the people we work with every day may be reluctant to be candid with us. Words of encouragement alone do not always help us learn where we stand. Certain senior colleagues may defer issues of accountability to the dean or provost. Actually, accountability is everyone's responsibility. The best tenure system is one that is supported by the entire faculty

VI. Are our standards reasonable?

This collection of notes and its companion piece probably could apply equally well to 200-250 colleges across our country. Some liberal arts colleges assign fewer classes to faculty members than Berry does, and therefore may expect more scholarly and service activity. Colleges with heavier teaching assignments certainly require less. Nevertheless, Berry's expectations are quite similar to those of the many liberal arts colleges that are ranked nationally by U.S. News and other publications. Given our academic aspirations, Berry is in the mainstream.


VII. Who can earn tenure at Berry?

If all of us -- those already at Berry as well as those who are candidates for faculty positions -- do our jobs properly during the recruiting process, faculty members who want to earn tenure will be able to. "Wanting to earn tenure" implies a willingness to make wise professional choices and to work extremely hard over the six-year probationary period. New faculty members who have done very good work in their graduate studies, written a fine dissertation, and have prepared themselves for a life of teaching, scholarship, and service should succeed in meeting their goals at Berry.

Some faculty members discover during the probationary period that they are not committed to meeting one or more of the tenure requirements. Others may underestimate the amount of work it takes to meet the challenge. A few will find that they prefer working and living elsewhere than in our community and will move on. In some cases, the circumstances of personal and family life deflect faculty members from earlier goals. Not everyone who takes a faculty position at Berry will eventually earn tenure here.

The analogy, again, is graduate study. Not everyone who embarks upon graduate study ends up earning a doctorate. In my experience, those who abandon graduate programs are as intelligent and talented as those who succeed. In most cases, that is also true of the tenure process. Success comes down to prudent choices, persistence, and dedication to the task at hand.

When faculty members succeed in meeting their goals, the college succeeds.


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