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Tenure and promotion after the pandemic

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Science  05 Jun 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6495, pp. 1075
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc7469

To compensate for declines in productivity induced by the pandemic, many universities have automatically extended tenure clocks by 1 year (1). This move is necessary but not sufficient. Tenure clock extensions disadvantage some groups. For example, in economics, women on longer clocks due to parental leave get tenure at lower rates than men (2). Many men use leave to produce articles, whereas women are more likely to care for children. Tenure committees often fail to account for differences in how leave time is spent. The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic will produce additional inequalities. Stay-at-home and public safety orders preclude some research, such as human subjects and laboratory work, while creating opportunities for others. Now is the time to develop strategies to mitigate the inequitable effects of the quarantine.

External reviewers and tenure and promotion committees should make three adjustments to the evaluation process. First, they should instruct candidates to pick the 6 best years of their record and require that evaluators and committees assess only the quality and impact of research, teaching, and service from those years, not the total years after completing their Ph.D. (or after attaining tenure, in the case of full professors). Second, evaluators should require a COVID-19 impact statement that explains the research, teaching, and service that candidates were able or unable to do, infrastructural or financial constraints, and obligations including child and elder care. Third, reviewers and committees should consider qualitative and holistic assessments in addition to quantitative evaluations such as number of publications, citations, impact factors, research expenditures, and teaching scores. These indicators could potentially carry even more biases after COVID-19 (36). Let's treat the pandemic as an opportunity to adopt new standards for advancement that are fair to caregivers and people with diverse research agendas.

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