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An Equity-Minded Approach to Writing Effective External Review Letters for Tenure and Promotion

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Senior faculty are incredibly powerful. In a two-page tenure letter, they can make or break a career. This power has an outsized impact on scholars with marginalized identities, such as Black academics, who are promoted with tenure at lower rates than their white colleagues. We suggest that this difference in tenure rates is due to an implicit, overly narrow definition of academic excellence that does not recognize all contributions that Black scholars make to their departments, institutions and academia in general, as well as the many invisible extra burdens of mentoring and representation that these scholars bear. Our goal in this presentation is to empower you, as letter-writers, to counteract these factors and promote the academic culture we all want to support. Towards this end, and inspired by Tema Okun’s (2021) antidotes to “white supremacy culture” in academia, we propose to faculty with majority privilege a set of practical steps for writing inclusive, anti-racist tenure letters. Our recommendations address what to do before writing the letter, what to include (and not include) in the letter itself, and what to do after writing the letter to further support our excellent colleagues. Devised from the perspective of USA-based, mostly non-Black, mostly women academics in STEM fields who are learning about and working toward Black liberation in academia, we hope these recommendations, and their future refinement, can support widespread ongoing work toward an inclusive academia that appreciates and rewards diverse ways of doing, learning and knowing.

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