I have been asked to be an external tenure evaluator for someone I don't know. It would be my first case. Knowing myself, I am sure I will spend an unreasonable amount of time and energy to do it right.

The problem is that I need to use my semester off to catch up on publications (I am way behind) and kick-start my book project (necessary if I want to be promoted to Professor). Adding to the stress, part of my research is abroad, and I am moving my entire family out of the country for the semester, which is another time sucker.

I feel wrong for saying no because our field is relatively small. However, as a minoritized female, I also feel I have been socialized to say "yes," which I do constantly. I really need help thinking this through.

  • 2
    "Thank you, but no"
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 16:45

7 Answers 7


There is nothing to "think through", the answer is very clear from your short description of the situation. Just say no. And use this as an opportunity to develop the skill of saying no, which is an important (some would say, essential) skill in academia and pretty much anywhere else. The first time saying no is the hardest, it gets much easier after you practice it a bit. :-)

Also, good luck with the sabbatical, the move abroad, and the book!

  • 14
    My wife once gave me good advice for academe. When asked to do this kind of job feel free to say no right away. Never say yes right away - take time to think about it. That's just what you've done here. Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 2:36
  • 3
    @EthanBolker of course, if you say no, you can always change your mind; if you say yes, it is much harder since you have made the commitment Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 9:28
  • Say you'll be more free next year.
    – Narasimham
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 0:12

You should feel free to say no.

If the ask is for you to serve on the committee, attend meetings and vote then given your time constraints, do say no.

If you are just being asked to write a letter in support consider saying yes. You could offer to do this when you decline fuller involvement. You might learn something reading this person's work. Set yourself a time limit so you don't in fact spend an unreasonable amount of time.

I suspect that as a minoritized female you are in great demand for tasks like this. That fact coupled with your own inclination to say yes can make for an unreasonable drain on your time.

  • 1
    I think it is really unfair to minorities to impose on them an extra drain of time just to tick boxes. Maybe to "pay their due to the system", they could increase the background load by 10-20%, but I think that's about it. After all, there is a reason why they are where they are, and they should use their talent there. Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 21:17
  • 4
    @CaptainEmacs I agree. That's what I meant my last paragraph to say, Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 2:34
  • @Stian She could have earned the job entirely on her merits (the only fair assumption) and still be often asked to be a token representative ... Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 12:44
  • @EthanBolker If so, saying no is viable and justifiable just as you write.
    – Stian
    Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 9:54
  • @EthanBolker Sorry if it wasn't unclear, I wanted to support your point, not contradict it. Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 14:54

Before you say yes or no, make sure that you know the parameters. How long is the process, how intense, travel required, zooms, what should be evaluated, ...?

Note that such a thing would be a plus on your CV for promotion to professor, I think, so there is some payback.

If the time and scale are OK, then it might not impact much on your time. It is often useful to have a "side project" when you are doing something else, like starting a book. You get stuck or bogged down and it can help to switch gears for a bit.

You can/should also ask someone at your own institution (or the asking institution) with more experience about how much time and effort are required. Perhaps someone who evaluated your tenure case.

Having written a lot of books, it isn't all that much effort/time to "get started". The hard part is at the end, in finishing up and getting everything right for publication. Papers are a different matter, perhaps.

  • 1
    Books have two obstacles: Getting started and getting finished. Most books fail at the first part, the remaining get delayed by the second.
    – usr1234567
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 6:20
  • There might be an added benefit that participating in a tenure review might leave the poster better prepared for putting together her own tenure case when the time comes. Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 18:38

Sure, there is a trade-off that you are facing. I believe you are also trying to understand the opportunity cost of saying no. If hesitation stems from the belief that saying yes might compromise your career path, I think it's equally important to consider the cost of saying yes.

There isn't necessarily anything bad about saying no to requests from individuals or committees, especially if you feel it could impact your professional trajectory. In professional relationships, decisions are typically pragmatic rather than sentimental.

I don't think anyone would take a 'no' personally or view it negatively. My advice would be to carefully weigh the cost and benefit of saying yes or no for yourself. Understanding this balance will make the decision-making process easier for you in the end.


There will always be administrative tasks with too few people to do them, so be assured the opportunity will very likely come again -- most likely well before your opportunity for a next sabbatical. This weighs the scales into working as hard as you can to complete the goals of your sabbatical.

Chances are reasonable that the people who brought your name up for this role were simply unaware of your sabbatical.

"I'm on sabbatical and my dance card is full, but thanks for thinking of me" is a fine response. Doing this will be far less injurious to your career than a non-productive sabbatical would.

I'd encourage you to learn to say no without feeling guilty when the situation demands it. It's an important skill.


I assume when you say you don't know the person that you've never heard of the person. I would say no to this request even if you weren't on sabbatical and working abroad. If your field is a small one then you should only be evaluating tenure cases for people you know. Part of the process of achieving tenure entails becoming well known enough that everyone in the field knows who you are, and doubly so if it's a small field. So the candidate should be able to put together a committee on their own merits. If you don't know the person, it's an automatic no.


I would suggest consulting with HR. If they say it's not ok then if you want to say no you can appeal to their authority. Depending on the country, saying yes might cancel/postpone your sabbatical or have other work time consequences that might be in your favor, such as extending your sabbatical by some amount of time. So you could then communicate the newly informed options to the head and ask what they advise and agree to. Finally, maybe the evaluation date could be shifted? To before or after your sabbatical? That might also be something communicated with HR. In the long run, your tenure is more important than evaluating someone else's. But on the other hand service is part of the evaluation for tenure right? So it might count towards yours. If you have other service activities in your portfolio then you don't "need" this. But also since this is your first time also you might get valuable insights about the process. What are the chances that the same person you are evaluating now will be on your committee later? So weigh the benefits for you personally, not for your department. Since you don't have tenure yet, you have to be a little selfish...

  • 4
    This really isn't an HR sort of request. There's little reason to ask them (at least in the US -- maybe other places are different). Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 15:16
  • It would be an HR thing in those places where sabbatical leave is administratively and legislatively defined (as other kinds of leave are). And it would be strange if it exists without being administratively defined. And if there's a formal framework for it, HR would know it.
    – vtheb
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 16:46
  • It becomes an HR thing if the progression is to say to the requestor "Sorry, I can't -- I'm on sabbatical" and then somebody tries to say "You have to do it anyway" -- but before that contacting HR probably isn't a good idea. Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 17:18

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