Organisation - November 18, 2009

On track for tenure: less than 10 percent of researchers

Is tenure track just for talented newcomers or do all Wageningen university's academic staff have to meet its criteria? This is the big question since the executive board published its strict criteria for the new career policy. The rules for top talent are fixed, says rector Martin Kropff. But he's willing to discuss other rules for established staff.

All the Sciences groups advised the executive board on the appropriate quality criteria for scientists seeking an appointment or a promotion in Wageningen university. Johan Feenstra contributed to the advice given by the Environmental Sciences Group. He came up with criteria which were met by sixty to seventy percent of the academic staff. 'And the rest were close'. But the criteria set by the executive board were a lot more heavyweight.
'The issue is a points system', explains Feenstra. We gave points for publications in all ISI journals, the board only acknowledges publications in the top journals. We also gave researchers credits for books, the board didn't. To get the required 25 credits per year, teachers have to get four articles published in top journals. Very few people can make that.'
  The acquisition requirements were put up too. 'The Executive board requires a lecturer to bring in four substantial projects worth 200 thousand in six years. Or to get research funding for four PhD students or postdocs. There aren't many teachers who can manage that.'
  The board's high standards are intended to attract top talent. They followed the example set by the NWO for the awarding of the prestigious Veni, Vidi and Vici grants. NWO candidates have to meet strict publishing quotas.  The tenure track criteria were based on that. Only 5 to 10 percent of researchers at the university meet these criteria.
Meanwhile, personnel consultants are holding meetings in the Sciences groups to explain that all academic staff are going to have to meet the tenure track criteria. In other words: the criteria apply to new appointments but also to staff who want to go up a scale or seek promotion. Moreover, professors are to receive letters from their Sciences groups to say that all the staff must meet the new criteria within three years. In three years' time, professors will be evaluated on the results.
  Rector Martin Kropff is committed to a distinction between the career path for new academic talent and the evaluation of established staff. 'We have twenty vacancies per year at the university. For these jobs we want to attract talented young people with the potential to become professors. Someone coming in at lecturer level must meet our criteria for lecturers and be able to grow into a senior lectureship in six years. This is what tenure track means: giving good, ambitious people the chance of a job and promotion.'
The other aim of the policy is to raise the overall quality. 'As the visitation showed, we have many good chair groups. Nevertheless, we need to up the quality again to get and stay ahead in the international field. For this I expect us to approach each case individually, bearing in mind the person, the subject area and the team we are dealing with.'
  So Kropff is amazed to hear that professors are being told by their sciences groups that staff have three years to get up to scratch for the tenure track criteria. 'We can't suddenly change the requirements for a lecturer or senior lecturer.'
Kropff has decided to put things on hold. He wants thorough discussions with the directors of the Research schools and the Sciences groups, to come up with a clear and feasible plan. He hopes to present that plan in a few weeks' time.

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