Volume 55, Number 3 Summer 2022

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Research Council

Edited by Chris Keys, DePaul University

Navigating Promotion and Tenure, Especially for Untenured Black Faculty, and other Faculty of Color

Written by Jacob K Tebes, Yale University; Christopher B. Keys, DePaul University; Fabricio Balcazar, University of Illinois at Chicago; Nicolle Allen, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Victoria Scott, University of North Carolina Charlotte; Shabnam Javdani, New York University Steinhardt; Nkiru Nnawulezi, University of Maryland Baltimore County; Elan Hope, North Carolina State University; Meeta Banerjee, University of South Carolina; and Noelle Hurd, University of Virginia

The following is a summary of the main topics that were discussed in a Roundtable Session by a group of panelists from our Research Council participating in the 2021 Biennial.

Sustaining and growing training programs is a key challenge for community psychology. There are currently about 30 community psychology doctoral and master's programs each in North America and about 15 of each world-wide. These programs also offer undergraduate education in community psychology as do at least as many colleges and universities across the world. Given the small number of community psychology programs, continued training and education in community psychology, particularly at the graduate level, is critical to sustaining the field. That is one reason why successfully navigating the tenure and promotion process is not only an individual challenge for early career faculty but one for the field itself.  Since its inception a couple of years ago, the SCRA Research Council has sought to address this issue. With support from the SCRA Executive Committee, the Council established the SCRA Research Scholars program in which early career scholars apply to be matched with a senior SCRA mentor in support of their research; some applicants also receive a small research grant. In addition, the Council is identifying other ways to support early career scholars that will be announced in the coming years. 

One such initiative was hosting a recent panel discussion at the 2021 Biennial Conference on “Navigating the Tenure and Promotion Process.” Conducted by representatives from the SCRA Research Council. The session was attended by 17 early career faculty from a variety of academic settings.  A blend of senior, mid-career, and early career faculty from the Council comprised the panel (see list of co-authors).  Panel members shared observations from their own experience mentoring faculty through this process and/or navigating it themselves. Three main themes were discussed: 1) know your local context; 2) think early on about possible referees; and 3) be honest with yourself. Below we summarize each theme and conclude with a brief discussion of next steps.

1. Know your local context. Each university or college has its own requirements for promotion from Assistant to Associate Professor, which was the focus of the panel. For most universities, promotion to Associate Professor includes tenure, but this is not always the case. Research intensive (so called R1) universities usually emphasize peer-reviewed publications, preferably in higher impact journals, and receipt of independent extramural research grant support, particularly from federal institutes or centers. In contrast, universities or colleges that prioritize teaching may give greater emphasis to teaching evaluations, student mentoring, and coverage of key courses/seminars. Although publications and grant support may be valued, they may not carry as much weight in the promotion process. Finally, colleges or universities that prioritize community or university service, particularly academic institutions with a strong service mission, may give considerable weight to those activities, on par with research or teaching accomplishments. Early career faculty were strongly encouraged to find out what is valued at their institution, to inquire about the process of promotion and tenure at their site, and to learn about their rights and responsibilities in this process. This includes getting copies of the P&T norms for their department and college, as well as the university P&T application forms.

2. Think early on about possible referees. Most academic settings require letters from outside referees, senior to the candidate, who are asked to complete an independent review of the candidate’s promotion materials. Those materials may include a complete curriculum vitae (CV), teaching evaluations, representative publications, a narrative statement about their career, and other locally relevant materials.  Knowing your local context and the P&T guidelines and norms will help you identify what is important to include in your materials. Referees who agree to complete a review of your career will be asked to comment on those materials. An independent referee is not someone who has mentored you or with whom you have collaborated, but most settings do allow for a few referee letters to come from collaborators or mentors. Candidates may have some input in identifying possible referees, often done in collaboration with a senior faculty member at your institution, but the final referee selection is done by your Department Head or Dean, and at their invitation. The possibility of input into this process means that is it a good idea for early career faculty to begin thinking early on about possible referees that they may want to recommend to their senior faculty sponsor. You should find out who are the top researchers in your area of interest. Referees who know you because they have met you on a panel, at a conference, or on a committee are usually considered independent because they have not collaborated with you on research, teaching, or service.  

3. Be honest with yourself. Throughout this process it is important to be honest with yourself about your strengths and vulnerabilities as a candidate for promotion. This can be difficult because you feel that so much is riding on the outcome of this process. However, it is important to remind yourself that there is no perfect candidate for promotion, ever. Even the strongest candidate has vulnerabilities since each institution, like each candidate, is different and may value different qualities in a candidate at a given time (e.g., the members of the department, college, and university P&T committees may change over time). Seek out a trusted mentor or colleague who will be honest with you in assessing your strengths and vulnerabilities for promotion. Once you identify your vulnerabilities, begin to address them as early as possible in your academic career. One way to do this is to draft materials for promotion years before they are due so that you develop a narrative about your contributions and accomplishments, such as your program of research; scholarly, teaching, and/or community service contributions; and citizenship to your department or university, well before you must do so. This will help you identify areas requiring further attention that you can address in time for promotion. Pay attention to your teaching evaluations.  If there are issues there, make sure to ask for advice and in some cases training.  With the pandemic, we are all facing many teaching challenges, especially with large classes, so it is fine to ask for help to improve your teaching scores.  You should discuss your class evaluations with your department head every year.  This is an opportunity for you to reflect on your progress.  You should also be getting peer teaching evaluations at least once a year.  These are documents that are also included in the P&T paperwork. If you can, you should invite a friendly but experienced faculty to give you “informal” feedback in one of your classes, so you can get a better idea about your teaching skills. You can also observe some of your peers teaching too and make that an opportunity to learn from other faculty in your department.

There was a robust subsequent discussion by participants to the session. One discussion topic included the isolation experienced as community psychologists by some faculty in undergraduate academic institutions or in interdisciplinary academic settings. These faculty welcomed opportunities for further mentorship or support from senior scholars in SCRA. Some faculty at graduate institutions reported that they did not know the details of the promotion and tenure process at their site and resolved to find out more based on participating in the session.

Here are some comments that were made by the panel participants:

  • How much is enough? Meeting with my chair helped me gain perspective. I definitely recommend taking the initiative to do that if that is not part of the standard process. My approach, which has served me well, is to focus on the art of how I do work as a process of discovery.
  • No one in my department was against me, but no one involved me in collaborative research even though my colleagues write with one another all the time. I started a writing group especially for Black women that was also a motherhood collective! Good source of support. I find it difficult to say no to students of color who are seeking a mentor.
  • I want to be seen for how I think, not how I provide service. In a Research 2 university, my department has a high service load, “-isms” still manifest and it is tough to find partners for equitable research.
  • I see navigating promotion and tenure as a fear-based journey. I participated in a faculty writing group for BIPOC and women faculty created by a former department chair who is Black. This structure was a real help to me. Another part of the process at my university was a formal third-year review that included outside letters. That was helpful in alerting me to what was involved in developing a promotion and tenure packet, especially the process used by my university for obtaining outside letters. Note: Each university tends to do the outside letter process a little differently, so find out from folks who manage that process and those who have recently gone through it what is expected and how others have fulfilled those expectations.
  • At my university I have seen supports for junior faculty grow over time. It is important to “keep narrating your work”. That means communicating your work in publications and grants and to your colleagues in conversations and public forums as well. Once you have obtained tenure, keep going to the rank of Full Professor. The rank of associate professor is a waystation not a stopping point.
  • You can learn important points from both written policies and those in the know regarding unwritten norms and expectations and points of difference. For example, more universities are now requesting a diversity statement regarding how you have contributed to the university’s mission of promoting diversity in your research, teaching, and service.
  • I have found it helpful to focus my service on responsibilities grounded in my ideas and in work I want to do.
  • In my university, promotion and tenure meetings are open. I learned a lot by attending and by seeking out open, honest accounts of the journey from colleagues I trust.

Finally, several faculty participants shared tips they have used to connect with other scholars, which were also endorsed by members of the panel. These included making self-introductions to senior colleagues at conferences or meetings and sending them your work unsolicited as a way to introduce yourselves.   

The SCRA Research Council welcomes ideas and suggestions about how it can support the work of early career scholars, including following up your comments on this article. To do so, please feel free to contact Jack Tebes at or Christopher Keys at