Assume the tenure track faculty members has produced worthwhile and well published research, has shown potential to attract outside funding and has above average reviews for classroom instruction.

Is the mere fact that this person treats other faculty members (not students) with varying levels of hostility, is generally uncooperative and largely disliked by department faculty enough to deny tenure?

The positives are pretty strong and I would normally assume they would be sufficient but I am concerned that other department faculty could strongly disagree and some may even choose to seek employment elsewhere if he is granted tenure.


2 Answers 2


In practice, "collegiality" is often a consideration in tenure decisions, whether or not it is a factor identified in the university policy on tenure and promotion.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has come out with a statement against the use of collegiality as a an explicit factor in tenure decisions:


However, this report also makes it clear that a faculty member who is hostile to the other faculty in his/her department would typically not be doing an adequate job in service and teaching, because working with colleagues in these areas is a necessary part of the job.

Thus "We're not granting tenure to John because no one likes him" wouldn't be a good reason, while "We're not granting tenure to John because he doesn't work productively in departmental committees" would be a reason to deny tenure.

As a practical matter, if the tenured faculty in the department don't like you and don't want you to get tenure, they'll probably find an excuse to deny you tenure. Any tenure track faculty member would be well advised to get along with the other faculty in the department.

  • 24
    This sounds exactly right to me. You shouldn't evaluate your colleagues for tenure based on how much you like them....but tenure is giving someone a job for life. One has to think twice before signing up for a lifelong dysfunctional working relationship. Moreover, it is a bit distressing if the threat of tenure denial does not persuade an assistant professor to be somewhat reasonable to work with: maybe with the security of tenure they'll be even worse? Jun 3, 2016 at 2:35
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    @Pete I'm curious what metric/axioms you're using for your claim that one shouldn't base such decisions on someone's likeability. Is academia really all about individual merit at all costs, even if it means promoting an unsavory human being to a position of power? Even if the emotional well being of faculty is to be discounted, is the drain on a department's long term collaborative health not supposed to be considered? This seems... bizarre... really, especially considering how (at least in my field) the "best" departments are the ones where the professors actually work together collegially.
    – user4512
    Jun 3, 2016 at 7:17
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    Also, that AAUP missive is pretty poorly argued. It falls prey to the fallacy of citing singular counterexamples to disprove trends ("Gadflies...have all been known to play an invaluable and constructive role"); it hinges on unsubstantiated quantifiers ("very real potential", "relatively little"); and ultimately it both fears collegiality would alter decisions and yet insists that it is 100% correlated with other criteria, so an entirely uncollegiate person will automatically fail the other criteria (so why be worried then?)...
    – user4512
    Jun 3, 2016 at 7:26
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    All in all it reads like a validation of the public's most negative impressions of the tenure system -- those in cushy positions keeping themselves there by arguments of tradition and some abstract notion of academic virtues.
    – user4512
    Jun 3, 2016 at 7:27
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    @ChrisWhite: One reason to be cautious of using likeability in tenure decisions: subjective terms often function (consciously or not) as a way for people to sneak their own extra-professional preferences into the system. For example, for many decades, 'likeability' and 'collegiality' were used to deny women tenure, on the grounds that they didn't fit in with the department culture.
    – Tom Church
    Jun 3, 2016 at 17:16

The question addresses a range of conflicts, which vary enormously in relevance (in my opinion).

Certainly simply disliking someone "for no particular reason" is not a reason to deny tenure. But what about "disliking" the misogynists who don't want women in math departments (well, supposedly because they "can't do math"...)? What about "disliking" people with racist biases about who can or cannot do math? (I've heard claims that U.S. kids are much lazier and less capable than kids from outside the U.S., for example?!?!) Meanwhile, as already commented, it still does happen that people from traditionally under-represented groups are judged to "not fit in". That's certainly inappropriate, I would say, though I have recently been shocked to hear some people defend the traditional biases as being allegedly reason-based.

And immediate personal abrasiveness, rudeness, incivility are not things easy to overlook, if one has to function on a committee with such people, count on their cooperation, and trust in their reliable, honorable behavior.

But, yes, the question of what qualifies as this-or-that behavior or bias is in the end subjective, perhaps, and it's certainly hard to codify these things.

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