Shedding new light on the role of research productivity, other factors in faculty advancement

At the core of the college tenure and promotion system—a process critical to the integrity of America’s research enterprise—is the notion that those who are the most deserving are promoted. But, is that truly the case?

A new study aims to examine the process in academic STEM careers and challenge some basic assumptions regarding merit as the sole driving force. A $2 million award from the National Science Foundation will support the project, helmed by researchers at the University of Houston and Hampton University. Lehigh is among eight partnership organizations working to shed new light on the role of research productivity and extraneous factors in determining who gets to stay in coveted tenured positions and who has to retool or restart their career.

“There are many factors affecting why women faculty and faculty of color are underrepresented in the rank of full, tenured professor,” says Kristen Jellison (pictured), a professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the Lehigh ADVANCE Center for Women STEM Faculty. Jellison is one of three Lehigh site collaborators on the project.

Over a three-year period, the team will investigate what drives outcomes, with a particular focus on external review letters and tenure clock extensions (often granted to new parents, and more recently used in response to the COVID-19 pandemic).

Learn more about this study of the faculty tenure and promotion process in Lehigh's Resolve magazine, Volume 2, 2021.