Promotion, Tenure, and the Engaged Scholar
Keeping the Scholarship of Engagement in the Review Process
By Sherril Gelmon and Susan Agre-Kippenhan
From the January 2002 AAHE Bulletin.
tenure and promotion process may be the most challenging and frightening time in
a faculty member’s life. For those committed to the scholarship of engagement,
the process can be even more challenging.
faculty members are fearful that the commitment to being engaged scholars could
jeopardize their chances for tenure and promotion, particularly related to how
their peers will evaluate their work. At some institutions, faculty members are
specifically told that engaged scholarship will not get them tenured or promoted
— yet at the same time these faculty members are encouraged to have community
involvements and develop pedagogies such as service-learning.
both have successfully completed the tenure and promotion process at Portland
State University, where the criteria explicitly follow the model Ernest Boyer
described in Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (Carnegie
Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1997) and promote the scholarship of
engagement (the criteria may be found at www.oaa.pdx.edu/oaadoc/ptguide/).
Nonetheless, our experience with our individual reviews was still fraught with
anxiety, tension, and concerns.
that the process is complete, we both have been approached by faculty members
who themselves are anticipating tenure and promotion and need advice and
suggestions on how to prepare for and navigate the process. This article
summarizes that advice. While many of our suggestions are specific to those
seeking advancement in the context of the scholarship of engagement, most are
relevant to all who seek tenure and promotion.
Be Mission Driven
Frame all of your work (but especially your community involvement) and your
dossier around the mission of your department or division, your school or
college, and the university. This should not wait until you are preparing your
dossier, but should be part of the developmental process of shaping your
scholarly agenda during the years leading up to your first review. When it comes
time to write your narrative (or equivalent description of your work), be very
explicit about these connections and the framing. If possible, think about how
your work can be organized using a generally framework, such as the Boyer model
Anticipate Review Committee Composition
Early on (six months prior to your review), talk with your department or
division chair about the composition of your review committee. Find out who is
supposed to be on the committee, especially if you have a split appointment
across programs or academic units. Also verify what freedom there is in the
committee composition. Some guidelines allow for representation from multiple
units within the university, as well as community and student representatives.
Advocate for what would be most advantageous for your particular case.
Know the Guidelines
Read your institutional promotion and tenure guidelines closely, and prepare
your dossier to be responsive to the guidelines. Follow the format prescribed
both for any narrative and for your curriculum vitae. Be sure you know if your
department or unit has its own guidelines in addition to the university
guidelines. Think carefully about how to interpret the guidelines to show how
your community work responds to the criteria. Do not ignore the fine print and
addenda! Understand what is required for tenure at the associate professor
level, and what the additional criteria are for promotion to full professor.
Prepare in Advance
Do not wait until two weeks before the due date to begin preparing your dossier.
Take advantage of faculty development opportunities on your campus and at
professional meetings. Inquire on your campus to find out if there are any
mentoring opportunities with senior faculty members or administrators who work
in academic affairs. This is a wonderful opportunity to approach senior faculty
members whom you respect (and whose support you would like) to seek their advice
and counsel. Review other people’s dossiers (preferably those who have been
successful in their review!) to get ideas about how to creatively and
comprehensively present your work within a reasonable length. Think about how
you will organize your narrative statement, about who your external reviewers
might be, and the contents and layout of your dossier. Find out if your
department or school provides any kind of clerical or financial support for
Make clear links in your narrative between traditional scholarship in your
discipline and your work. Demonstrate how your community engagement is relevant
to your discipline, and how this work contributes to scholarship in your field.
This is an opportunity to develop a scholarly presentation or publication to
demonstrate, for example, how a classroom-focused service experience builds
knowledge about pedagogy in your discipline and can become scholarly work by
virtue of dissemination through professional journals and meetings.
Brag Like Your Mother Would
You need to tell your own story. Tell how wonderful and significant your work
is. If you don’t say it, no one will hear it, so don’t be afraid to brag.
This is not the time to be humble or shy.
Packaging Is Everything
Present your materials in an easy-to-review format/package. List everything you
have done in your vitae in the format required by the university. However, be
selective in what you include in the accompanying dossier and provide a sample
of only the most relevant things. Do not include every paper you have written,
every conference announcement in which you are listed, every email that praises
your work, every souvenir napkin from each conference venue, and so on. Your
reviewers will not read multiple massive binders of single-spaced, double-sided
materials. Again, check to see if your institution has page limitations — and
don’t disregard those requirements.
Leave Nothing to Chance
You need to be sure not only that everything you document can be verified, but
also that every interpretation that your reviewers might make is based on
documentable fact. This is not a time for intuition or hearsay. While the
emphasis for you, the faculty member, is on your documentation, you want to
ensure to the extent you can that all review deliberations are fact-driven. Do
not assume that your reviewers have certain knowledge about you or your work. If
you are eligible for review under more than one set of tenure and promotion
guidelines (i.e., they have changed in the time you have been there), you need
to be explicit about which set guides your review and be sure that all reviewers
Cross-Reference Within Your Dossier
Prepare your dossier so that it is complete and easy to follow. A table of
contents is particularly helpful. Most guidelines make a distinction between
required and supporting materials, and your dossier should include both. In
particular, for supporting materials, provide a brief introductory narrative and
perhaps even copies of the relevant parts of your vitae. In our cases, the
format for our curricula vitae required presentation of traditional and
community scholarship together. We both chose to prepare supplementary materials
illustrating these two kinds of scholarship as distinct entities, and for each
kind prepared a cover page listing selected items from our vitae (e.g.,
presentations and publications) that reflected this specific scholarly work.
Seek Strong Letters of Support
Carefully select professional colleagues (within and outside of your
institution), community partners, and students and alumni (from all programs in
which you teach and all the different projects on which you work) to write
letters of support for your dossier. These are not the people who will be the
formal external reviewers but rather people who know you and can provide
informal support. Verify what is acceptable at your institution (both as
described in the guidelines and generally accepted as common practice).
individuals from whom you seek these letters of support will not necessarily
know about all of your work but will be your advocates for specific activities
— such as a community partner for a class, a representative of an organization
where you contribute service, or a student for whom you served as an advisor and
mentor. Tell these individuals what substantive things about your work you would
like them to focus on. Select a representative sample of people to write such
letters, and provide a list of these individuals in your dossier.
Court Your Committee Chair
Engage your review committee chair to the extent that he or she is willing to be
engaged. Some chairs will want to maintain distance in order to protect the
integrity and objectivity of the process. In some cases (as happened for one of
us) the chair will want some assistance if his or her own professional
background diverges from yours. This happens often in disciplines with multiple
areas of expertise, where there may only be one or two faculty members in each
area at your institution. Find out what you can do to help the review process
along. Offer to assist the chair in any way you can that does not interfere with
the process, such as preparing multiple sets of materials or doing the
Be careful not to offend anyone who may be part of the review process. This is
not the time to make that really controversial curriculum proposal that would
eliminate the pet course of your review committee chair. While you should not
compromise your own principles, the harsh truth is that you are going to be
judged. If you want to be successful, it’s better not to have or make any
enemies. This is also a good time to monitor your behavior (and that of your
spouse or partner) at work-related social events. A comment or action made in
jest could later prove to be a liability.
Recommend Strong External Reviewers
Help your committee by identifying strong external reviewers whom you believe
can give you a fair, unbiased, and well-informed review. Be sure these reviewers
understand your community involvement and contribution. Some institutions have
requirements for reviewers (e.g., must have a doctorate, must be a faculty
member with a certain rank); make sure you know what these are. If allowable or
required, provide a brief biographical statement for each potential reviewer to
demonstrate why he or she would be appropriate. You can also categorize these
reviewers to assist in the committee’s selection, for example, an expertise in
teaching and learning, a background in community-based research, or extensive
experience in disciplinary research.
it is useful if these people know you or your work, most institutions will not
allow co-authors, research collaborators, dissertation committee members, or
others with a close association to serve as external reviewers (invite these
people to write letters of support). Most institutions will also add other
external reviewers besides those you have recommended, and there are generally
provisions for you to identify potential conflicts of interest and decline a
reviewer (before her or she is appointed).
Be Your Own Advocate and Champion
Going through the tenure and promotion process is like writing your dissertation
— no one else cares about it nearly as much as you do. Therefore you must
advocate, encourage, cajole, and nag as needed to ensure that everything moves
forward in a timely fashion (if it somehow gets bogged down). This includes
understanding your rights and procedures for due process, whether through a
faculty union, the American Association of University Professors, or other
appropriate organizations. If you don’t look out for yourself, no one else
Match Your Work To Reviewers’ Expertise
Most review committees will select particular materials to send to each external
reviewer based on that reviewer’s area of expertise. All reviewers will not
necessarily receive the same materials. If possible, support your committee by
identifying what aspects of your dossier should be reviewed by which reviewer,
what each reviewer can speak to with the most expertise. For example, one
reviewer may be most appropriate to look at your teaching-related scholarship,
while another can assess your community-based work. Be proactive with your chair
to see if he or she would like you to help with this.
Do Extra Work to Support Your Committee
you assemble your dossier, think about tasks you can do that will save your
committee time. For example, prepare summaries of course evaluations to support
the sample syllabi you include, thereby saving your committee that step of the
work. As stated above, make extra copies of materials for duplication.
Be Honest, Candid, and Gracious
Do not misrepresent your work or overstate your accomplishments (let your
letters of support sing your praises). This is an opportunity to be reflective.
In your narrative, be open about your mistakes; describe how you learned from
them and subsequently made improvements. Be open in describing areas where your
reviewers may perceive weaknesses (such as lack of university committee
may have overlooked something in the preparation of your materials, and your
committee may bring this to your attention. Graciously accept these comments and
act on any suggestions that may strengthen your documentation for subsequent
levels of review within your institution. The committee’s suggestions for
changes may be advanced warning of items that may appear in your review letter
(such as multiple listings of a single presentation under several categories in
your vitae, or presenting a brown-bag luncheon discussion as equal to a
Know the Timetable
Learn the university deadlines and be attentive to the milestones where you
should receive responses (from your department, your school or college, the
provost, and the president). Know if and when you might be required to review or
sign documents, and be sure you are available at those times (think twice before
booking that lengthy vacation at a remote location). Find out if your guidelines
allow for submission of updates to your documentation (such as receipt of a
significant new grant). If you do not receive notification by the expected
deadlines, follow up with the relevant administrative official. While the entire
institution may have set timelines, your unit may have earlier deadlines and you
need to know these and adhere to them. Conversely, there may not be a specified
date for announcement of final decisions (from the provost, president, or
equivalent), and you should know what the final possible date is for
Follow the Letter of the Law
If your guidelines ask for a certain number of copies, provide them. Don’t
provide more, but also don’t provide less. If a certain format is prescribed,
use it. Don’t violate rules for the sake of being creative; use your
creativity around the rules rather than in place of them.
guidelines should provide clear processes for appeal and specify eligible
situations and relevant levels of appeal. Timelines for appeal are usually very
strict so be sure you know what your opportunities are.
This is a lengthy process that often takes an entire academic year. Despite
multiple milestones along the way, it’s not going to be over until you get the
final letter. This is a good time to check in with others who have recently gone
through the process at your institution; no doubt you will find them incredibly
20 items can be categorized into significant aspects of the tenure and promotion
preparation and review — planning, documentation, behavior, and process. Some
are particularly relevant for faculty members who are seeking to be recognized
for the scholarship of engagement (items 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 10, 13, and 15). These
items address placing your work into the context of your university and your
discipline, and also provide advice on how to interpret and examine your
guidelines to allow for flexibility and adaptability within the review process.
They also address outside supporters and reviewers, who may play a more
significant role in such reviews than in those of faculty pursuing more
traditional disciplinary scholarship.
the tenure and promotion guidelines may seem tightly prescribed, each faculty
member needs to take advantage of these structures to determine how to use them
creatively to tell their own story. Despite all the stresses associated with
review, the opportunity to engage in deep and meaningful reflection is often
described by faculty as a particularly positive experience that helps them to
set their own agenda for their future work.
authors are both tenured full professors at Portland State University, where
they have each successfully navigated the tenure and promotion process. They
have both been appointed as founding members of the National Review Board for
the Scholarship of Engagement.
Gelmon is professor of public health in the Mark O. Hatfield School of
Government, College of Urban and Public Affairs, at Portland State University.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Agre-Kippenhan is a professor of art in the School of Fine and Performing Arts
at Portland State University. Contact her at email@example.com.
Promotion and Tenure at an Engaged Institution
Sherril Gelmon and Susan Agre-Kippenhan, along with Amy Driscoll of California State
University, Monterey Bay, and co-director of the National Review Board for the
Scholarship of Engagement, presented a major session at the 2002 AAHE
Conference on Faculty Roles & Rewards in Phoenix. Their session,
“The New Rules: Promotion and Tenure at an Engaged Institution,” was held at 3 p.m. on Saturday, January 26.
Recordings of the session (MO6) are available from Conference
Media Contractors, www.cmc-net.com.