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  • Writer's pictureJasmine

COVID vs tenure

I suspect this thought is entering people's minds. If 'life' is shutting down, classes transitioned and field seasons uncertain, or just outright cancelled, what happens with tenure?

Many research programmes are likely to be negatively impacted by the current COVID measures. Now, I want to be clear that this is not a post about loosening COVID precautions - they are in place for a reason. Rather, this is a serious question about what institutions are likely to implement or change in order to account for potentially 'lost' or impacted productivity.

Teaching evaluations

I received an email a few days ago suggesting that my institution would be effectively scrapping all teaching evaluations for this semester. Any teaching evaluations needed for tenure would have to be 'postponed'. The logic? The evaluations may be unrepresentative due to the outbreak.

I'm still not sure how I feel about this. In some ways I am disappointed. I had those students face-to-face for 3/4 of the semester. I don't think the last couple of weeks, given everything else going on, will play into students' perceptions of my teaching. I think we can all agree that teaching evaluations are pretty 'unrepresentative' at the best of times (see Dynamic Ecology for an example of such thoughts and discussion). I would suspect that the number of students completing an evaluation might decrease.

If we can lower expectations for many other things at this time, surely we can do the same for some teaching evaluations?

Publications & editorial service

I'm sure there are going to be delays in getting papers submitted, reviewed and published. I have received emails from both Ecology and Evolution and PeerJ requesting that editors take on what they can and be as accommodating as possible with deadlines. This is very fair, of course. However, it doesn't alleviate the fact that there are likely to be delays for people's measurable productivity. With so much extra stress and workload at the moment, it is difficult for people to keep up, let alone move forward.

Research & funding

Many research activities are being shut down or hampered. I've seen people lamenting the loss of their experimental plants, worrying about missed field seasons and desperately requesting extensions on funding and future applications. I've heard mixed reports about all of this. Some places seem quite accommodating - granting extensions, offering additional support etc. Some places - not so much.

I 100% agree that we should protect ourselves, colleagues, employees and students. However, it isn't clear how these delays or losses will be taken into account with respect to people's tenure progress.

What are the options?

I'm quite sure I won't have all the answers but I can think of a few options that institutions might be considering.

  1. Delay the process - I think this will be a popular option. Effectively, the next 6 months or so might be wiped from the official record. This is a fantastic option for those really affected by viral-related delays/losses because it means they can (hopefully) pick up again when 'life' returns to 'normal'. There are some negatives though. Trying to re-start after a lengthy amount of time is not easy. Just think about how hard it can be to re-read a manuscript after several weeks. It is going to take far longer than the 'COVID delay' for people to get back up to speed. How will that be factored in? Then there is a potential impact for anyone who remained productive during this time. Will those people be considered business as usual candidates that don't receive a pause on their tenure track (TT) application? Who will get to decide?

  2. Be accommodating - Personally, I think this might be the better option. During a time when we are asked to accommodate so much on other fronts, I think we could do it here too. Perhaps future applications will need to be subject to some lower standards. Maybe applications will need to be weighted differently so that individual circumstances and impacts are taken into account. Perhaps candidates could write statements relating to their impact to help inform and assist the committees. It might be a little more complicated and time consuming, but what isn't at the moment?

  3. Do nothing - I hope this is not an option, but you never know. Clearly this would just add to people's workload, encourage them to take unnecessary risks and tax their mental health. The TT process is anxiety ridden enough.

Whether the TT process is delayed, accommodated or remains unchanged, I believe it is very safe to assume that those younger faculty members will be feeling increased pressure and anxiety for many months to come. In a time when everyone is feeling these emotions and stressors (perhaps for different reasons) it will be increasingly important for us to pull together as a community and help each other through. I know lots of academics are already doing this, so keep up the positivity!

On a final note, I would love to hear from people what they or their institutions might be considering for TT applications.

Stay healthy.

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