Collegiality and Tenure

ScienceBlogling Abel Pharmboy asks two questions about collegiality and tenure:

1. Do you think that lack of collegiality is grounds for denial of tenure for a candidate that otherwise meets the basic quantitative criteria outlined in university guidelines?

2. Do you feel that collegiality - or whatever you want to call it: teamwork, cooperation - should be an important factor in making academic tenure decisions?

To get question 1 out of the way, I'm assuming that the guidelines don't specifically mention collegiality (which is really stupid). In that case, to deny someone tenure based on criteria that don't exist is not sufficient grounds for denial, any more than if a university denied tenure on the basis of inadequate service, when no service requirement was stated.

But question 2 is the crux of the matter.

I don't see how one can function as a scientist without being collegial. Even if people in the same department aren't collaborating in their research (again, stupid), they still have to figure out how to educate the students. In one department that I was formerly in, there was very little inter-lab research collaboration. On the other hand, there was a lot of discussion, not always collegial, about how to educate undergraduates and graduate students (which, at times, led to an incredible amount of conflict).

Is it possible to fulfill your minimal* educational obligations and be a reasonably productive researcher? Sure. But that's a low bar: a good faculty member has to productively work with his or her colleagues.

I don't really see how collegiality can't be part of the decision to grant tenure.

*I use minimal, since deciding what everyone's obligations are to the students will require working with others.

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This reminds me of 2 methods for evaluating athletes.

The first is based on measures like individual points scored.

The second is based on measures like points scored while the athlete is in the game.

Some athletes who directly produce a significant number of points have been found to actually decrease the number of points the team scores while they're on the field. Some athletes who don't directly score a large number of points have been found to increase the number of points the team scores while they're on the field.

Similarly, even a professor with significant publications and funding might drag down the department as a whole. I think this is the importance of collegiality. How you actually measure whether a professor's individual successes are greater or less than their effects on the rest of the department, I don't know.

Sometimes new colleagues are very productive but jerks, and sometimes real nice people don't accomplish very much, and I don't like giving tenure to people in either category. Remember, once a jerk, always a jerk, and if they treat colleagues that way, they'll also treat students that way. Now they don't have to be my buddy, but they should deal with people in a cooperative, colleagial manner. So yes, how people interact with their colleagues is very important in making a tenure decision, particularly if you have to operate as a department faculty as opposed to a conglomerate of doing-your-own-thing people.

I'll up the ante: I think professionalism and collegiality should be evaluated requirements for degrees-especially in professions that lead to contact with students or patients.

To some extent the question is context-sensitive. I professed for a couple of decades in a small (expensive) private liberal arts college that is in a fairly remote location. Collegiality there is an integral part of professionalism. You really don't want to be stuck for life with a jerk in that situation.

I have only to look around at the academic departments I've been involved with to know that the degree of collegiality required is not umm...a really high bar to pass.