Tenure and Promotion for Applied Anthropologists: Deans’ and Chairs’ Perspectives

Panel Sponsored by the Consortium of Practicing and Applied Anthropology Programs (COPAA)

Society for Applied Anthropology Meeting, 2007


Romero-Daza, Nancy (University of South Florida)
Briller, Sherylyn (Wayne State University)
Khanna, Sunil (Oregon State University)


This panel, organized by the Consortium of Practicing and Applied Anthropology Programs (COPAA) brought together academics who have had experience in the tenure and promotion decision making process (e.g., department chairs, deans, chairs of T&P committees) to discuss successful strategies for the presentation of T&P packages by applied anthropologists. Panelists presented concrete recommendations about how T&P committees can “make the case” for applied anthropology at the college and university levels where those in charge of T&P decision-making might not recognize, or be familiar with the value of our applied work.


Linda Bennett (University of Memphis)
Elizabeth Bird (University of South Florida)
Allan Burns (University of Florida)

Critical points made in panel presentation and discussion
  • T&P decision-making is relevant for the whole field of applied anthropology. This issue is “not just an academic institutional one” because those who achieve tenure will be training the next generations of applied anthropologists.
  • The way in which T&P periodic reviews are conducted within individual units and colleges is quite variable between institutions. It is important to be knowledgeable about the specifics of how one’s home institutional processes work.
  • It is important to consider the relationship between how scholarly work and service are defined/operationalized in different institutional contexts.
  • There was continued discussion from last year’s T&P session regarding the ongoing problem with getting adequate recognition for the complexities, arduous nature, time required for working with community partners, and doing applied and “engaged scholarship”. It was stressed that chairs should counsel junior faculty to avoid or very carefully negotiate these relationships. Insist on being able to publish papers documenting research/project processes as well as study findings. Junior faculty members need these “deliverables” for obtaining tenure.
  • Senior faculty must provide clear guidance for junior faculty regarding “making a game plan” for publishing their applied work. This discussion included balance between traditional and non-traditional publications, how to deal with the so-called “grey” literature – this activity takes a lot good mentoring!
  • Department Chairs have the “hardest job” and are the most important in helping junior faculty attain tenure.
  • Vital role of department chair in creating compelling narrative of the junior scholar’s work/record. It is important to build the case year by year. Discuss why the journals they are publishing in are appropriate forums for their work. Need to educate T&P committees on how to consider journals in a “non-formulaic” manner that is not only based on their quantitative impact factor rankings. Convincingly argue for other attributes that also must be considered in determining broader impact of the junior scholar’s work for the field. Help the junior scholar present their total package – show how there is an “upward slope” in their total trajectory in all areas – scholarship, teaching, and service. In the chair’s letter, also discuss the department mission and what the junior person’s role is in the department.
  • Make the case for rewarding other kinds of scholarly activities that go beyond writing papers (e.g., student mentorship, bringing students to meetings, launching professional development). Encourage scholarship on pedagogy in addition to excellent teaching.
  • Critical importance of choosing good external reviewers. Strong letters are really important that don’t “waffle” in any way. Pedigree of reviewers really matters to T&P committees (institutional/personal prestige/ full professor status). Must choose those who will do a good job reviewing the file carefully. Provide all necessary documentation to reviewers so that they can make a strong case (e.g., send department/college guidelines, publications, candidate statement, etc.) Understand that this is a major request of the external reviewer – give adequate time to do a good job and express appreciation to them. The details about the selection of external reviewers varies across departments. It is important to be aware of guidelines for selection, protocol used to solicit review, etc.
  • Build departmental track record with college T&P committee over time. Expect same volume of scholarship from applied scholars, even if some is in alternative places and forms. Only put forward people to college T&P committee who are well-prepared and “have the record”.
  • Understand that applied scholars from other disciplines are very capable of conceptualizing the merits of applied work/translating those ideas across fields (examples were provided in the session from the fields of chemistry and math). Appreciate the abilities of such applied scholars to be potential allies in making the case for the merits of applied anthropologists’ work in T&P committee discussions.
  • Action Item – senior applied scholars in the field will work on drafting a document to aid department chairs and T&P committees in how to conceptualize the cases of applied scholars. Due to the inherent diversity of applied scholarship, this document will need to have very flexible language (e.g., possibly modeled on the AAA ethics statement which needed to be extremely broad to have utility for the field as a whole.) The document should mainly consist of “suggestive statements” that help orient those in charge of making and evaluating these cases. Creating such a document will be an important culminating step drawing upon what has been learned from the series of T&P related sessions for applied anthropologists that COPAA has sponsored over the past 3 years.