Fairness and Bias in Promotion and Tenure - University of Houston
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Promotion and tenure (P&T) decisions at universities are of critical significance to the integrity of the research enterprise because they determine the career progression of scholars and scientists. Despite significant investments in pipeline interventions to diversify academia, faculty of color and women are underrepresented in tenured and tenure track positions. Underrepresentation has important implications for the nation's prospects of developing a diverse STEM workforce. For undergraduate and graduate students of color, having access to faculty members who share and understand their lived experiences and backgrounds has profound benefits.

These include developing science identities and persisting in science careers. Therefore, novel ways to examine gatekeeping mechanisms such as the promotion and tenure processes are needed. Despite the widely recognized importance of P&T processes, minimal research has examined whether and how P&T processes' most critical elements contribute to outcomes for women and faculty of color. Through funding from the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundations, this project examines the validity and fairness of external review letters (ERL) provided by arm's length reviewers as part of promotion and tenure decision-making. Academic administrators often view ERLs as the most impartial and critical components of tenure and promotion portfolios, providing qualitative, independent evaluations of candidates' past accomplishments, reputation, potential, and the prospect of continued, sustainable contribution levels.

Despite their sensitive nature, given the criticality of ERLs in academic promotion and tenure decisions, the limited research on validity and bias in ERLs is stunning. This project closes this gap by analyzing the linguistic characteristics of ERLs and examining the relationship between ERL linguistic characteristics, promotion candidate characteristics, letter writer characteristics, and promotion and tenure voting outcomes at the department, college, and university-level committees. The project examines ERLs through theoretical work on the social psychology of language use, social comparison processes, and social role theory.


Determine structural barriers around promotion and tenure limiting the advancement of minority faculty and ultimately the inclusion of all demographic groups in Science.


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The current research was supported with funding from the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. NSF ADVANCE IT Grant #1409928 and NSF EHR research grant #2100034 to the University of Houston, PI: Madera, J.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.