Is This Tenure Candidate ‘Playing’ Me?

Note: In the “Ask the Chair” series, the author of How to Chair a Department answers your questions about departmental leadership. Send your queries via Twitter, Facebook, or email. Read previous columns here.

Question: I came to a new institution to chair my department (psychology) last fall. It’s been a great move for me, personally and professionally. Perhaps I’m just enjoying the fruits of the “honeymoon” period right now, but I’ll take it: We all seem to be getting along and moving in a positive direction.

I am a bit concerned about something on the horizon, however: A junior colleague comes up for tenure in the fall, and their research record is very thin. I’m trying to keep my own counsel at this point, and haven’t discussed the case with anyone inside or outside the department. But I do feel that my junior colleague is playing me, to a certain extent: conducting a charm offensive, perhaps on the mistaken notion that one can charm oneself over the tenure bar.

I guess my question is: How does a chair run a tenure or promotion review while maintaining an appropriate working relationship with the candidate? How can I inhabit the roles of supportive mentor and objective arbiter at the same time?

Signed,
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

Dear Jekyll & Hyde,

Well, first — especially given the context of last month’s column about mercenary chairs — congratulations on your new position, and what seems like a good fit. The honeymoon period that you allude to is a real thing. The fact that you’re being given some space and grace early in your chairship doesn’t guarantee that the mood will last, of course; but not every new chair gets even that much. Take it!

And leverage it, if you

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