I have a colleague who is coming up for tenure review shortly, and there is a problem with his teaching history. He was hired to teach classes specifically in area X, although his research is in a slightly different area (Y). I was on the committee that hired him, and the teaching was a major part of what we were looking for.

However, this person has not taught any classes in area X, at all. I know from persona knowledge that he requested not to teach X in his first semester, and I have heard from others that he continued to not want to teach in that area. (I have no reason to doubt the veracity of this hearsay, and his teaching assignment requests can be documented for the tenure and promotion committee.) This has not turned out to be a serious problem in terms of covering classes. Somebody else, also from area Y, started teaching some classes in area X, and we later hired a full time person working in Y.

Yet I am still concerned that the assistant professor coming up for tenure has flouted the requirements of the position for which he was hired (which were clearly set forth in his offer letter from the dean). His research is fine, although not outstanding, and his teaching in other areas would normally be considered adequate. He also does fine in other considerations (service, collegiality) as well. However, I am not sure whether it is appropriate to vote in favor of his tenure case, and I was wondering whether what others might think to be appropriate in such a situation.

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    I find it curious that the issue was not brought about with him by the dean or by the head of department (or whoever has the responsibility) after the first semester. Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 16:50
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    I think that Massimo's question is a key one. If teaching in area X was important enough to base a hiring decision around, it seems like it should have been important enough to follow through with afterwards. (If the majority of the department has "largely forgotten about the issue," it doesn't sound so critical, although admittedly very important things can still be forgotten.) Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 17:00
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    @Buzz Surely prior to a vote this issue will be discussed among you and your colleagues, and the chair could answer these sorts of questions and present a more accurate perspective about what happened. Right...?
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 17:01
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    Also, without knowing more about how your department works, it is not clear to me that this person has flouted any requirements: in my experience, teaching requests are just that -- requests -- and are subsidiary to the needs of the department. All in all, it seems to me that what the understanding has been between the person, the department chair and whoever schedules classes is a key one. I think you should listen carefully to this information -- or ask for it, if need be -- at the departmental P&T meeting. Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 17:05
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    Why in the world would this be cause for concern? People who are specialists in X are teaching X. Specialists in Y are teaching Y. Sounds like the best possible deal for the students, and it sounds like a good arrangement for all the faculty as well. The tenure process is not a mindless algorithm in which we use boolean algebra to verify a mathematical formulation set forth in the job offer.
    – user1482
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 23:46

2 Answers 2


Based on the information you've provided (and certainly the part of it that is not based on unsubstantiated rumors, which I think it would be quite problematic to take into account), I do not see any cause for concern of a sort that would cast a serious shadow over your colleague's tenure case.

The reason is that individual faculty members do not decide what they teach, but instead the assignment is made by the department (the chair or a dedicated committee) based on its needs, and it is the duty of faculty to teach what they are assigned. It is completely fine if your colleague requested not to teach courses in area X - we all have preferences in such things; it would only not be fine if he were to be assigned such a course and refuse to teach it, and that does not seem to be what happened. If the department can meet its future teaching needs without this person ever teaching a course in area X, why would you or anyone else find fault with that? To summarize, your interpretation that the faculty member "flouted" the teaching requirements of the position seems quite questionable to me, at least in the absence of additional details you haven't provided.

I should add that I have seen cases of faculty members who actively resisted teaching courses they had been assigned. Such conflicts usually involve people with very difficult personalities, and unless the department chair is a total pushover, they will likely escalate quite rapidly to a higher level involving the dean and/or disciplinary action being threatened or pursued. And when this happens, you can be pretty sure that the miscreant is already tenured...


Private Liberal Arts College

At a private liberal arts college, there are usually three tenure requirements: teaching, research, and service. There may be a fourth, sometimes explicitly spelled out, but sometimes implicit within service: collegiality.

At the small privates, collegiality is weighed heavily. Departments are small. Keeping the peace is important. Someone who doesn't pull their weight is a serious issue. If the department votes against a candidate on collegiality/service grounds -- this will be seen as a valid reason -- and their case most likely won't make it past through tenure and promotions. Even if the vote is not negative, but something like 4:2 (remember departments are small), the small minority vote may be enough to sway the tenure committee or provost.

Public University

At a public university, the same three criteria (research, service, teaching) apply but departments are bigger and the tenure process more bureaucratic and transparent. You can't not-tenure without a documented reason that fits within the rules and regulations. "Collegiality" as such is usually not considered unless documentable. Any concerns about teaching should have been properly reported in the candidate's third year / mid-term review -- usually under "teaching" but perhaps also under department service. If they were documented and they weren't addressed by the time of tenure review, then it could be grounds for separation. But otherwise you'll need to come up with a documentable reason for not tenuring.

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