Guidance for Writing a Chair’s Letter

As chair, you are responsible for explaining all norms and expectations of the candidate’s discipline (even if you are not in that discipline yourself). The chair’s letter should also provide your independent review of the candidate’s contributions and trajectory--simply restating what others have stated is not sufficient. You’ll need to describe how the candidate has met or exceeded departmental and disciplinary expectations, the impact of his or her contributions to the discipline or beyond, and explain anything which might puzzle someone who is not from the candidate’s discipline. Taking care to write this letter with all possible detail from the beginning makes it less likely that you will have to add additional responses as the case winds its way through the various committees. Any puzzlement on the part of the committees as they review the dossier may cause doubt about the candidate. Clarity and complete explanations will create a smoother path for your candidate’s file.

Checklist for contents of letter:

  • Brief description of candidate: when candidate was hired, why candidate was hired in the first place
  • Departmental vote
    • What was the vote (unanimous; 5 for, 3 against, 2 abstentions; etc.)
    • Give number of faculty who did not attend departmental vote, and where known, reasons for not attending
    • What were the comments/reasons given in support of giving tenure to the candidate
    • Any concerns expressed in the meeting, what were they—why should or shouldn’t these concerns prevent the candidate from achieving tenure
    • Include the minutes of the voting meeting as a separate document in the dossier—point the readers to that document.
    • Describe departmental bylaws/traditions about who votes on tenure cases
  • Procedures for selecting external reviewers and appropriateness of reviewers (The process of selecting reviewers is explained in a required separate document, but should be referenced in the Chair’s letter.)
    • Why those particular reviewers were selected
    • Discussion of why their institution is considered a ‘peer’ or ‘aspirational peer’: Note: sometimes our aspirational peers in a discipline come from institutions that do not count as our peers. It is critical that this be explained to CPCA members in your letter.
    • Relationship with candidate—explain why this person is ‘at arm’s length’
    • Describe what they were asked to review
    • Brief description of request letter reviewers received and point to copy of that letter in the dossier
  • Review of external letter writers’ comments. Summarize what reviewers said, and what you think of their estimations of your candidate. If there are any negative or questionable comments in the external letters, address and explain them directly. Do not try to ignore doubts raised by external letter writers, hoping that committees at higher levels will not notice. Any sense that the chair is trying to hide something may result in added scrutiny and doubt about the candidate. Negative comments will not necessarily doom the candidate. But they should be explained/placed in context, etc.
  • Description of expectations for tenure in the discipline or sub-discipline of the candidate. This can be based on what peer institutions expect, or be pulled from existing practices/documents in the department. Be clear about expectations for research, teaching and service. If the department has such expectations in writing, this document can be included in the file.
  • Description of kinds of work recognized as ‘scholarly’ in the discipline or sub-discipline (journal articles, governmental reports, books, book chapters, patents, concerts, exhibits, conference papers, etc.). This is especially important for any cases involving anything that might be viewed as non-traditional forms of scholarship by other disciplines; for example, community-engaged scholarship.
  • Description of any other norms in the discipline or the department (order of authorship, role of co-authorship vs. single authorship, grants expectations, teaching loads, the role of interdisciplinary work...)
  • Detailed description of the candidate’s
    • Scholarship contributions—
      • Impact and importance of candidate’s work that merits tenure
      • Trajectory and potential for the future
      • Description of the quality/ranking of the journals/publishing locations where the candidate has published. Where do they rank in the discipline or sub-discipline? Top Tier? Bottom quality? Who says so?
      • Clear and thorough citation analyses (this can be a separate document, but should be referenced in your discussion of the candidate’s work)
      • When co-authored work is present, point to part of dossier where the candidate’s contributions are explained. Co-authors may be asked to describe such contributions. However: co-authors’ letters will not be counted as among the external review letters.
    • Teaching, in comparison to departmental average
      • Courses taught; new courses developed
      • Quality of teaching
      • Graduate students overseen/Ph.Ds completed (depending on discipline, this could land in research column)
      • Curriculum development
    • Service: load and quality of work as reported by colleagues
  • Description of any unusual aspects of the department that affect the candidate’s trajectory: # of students changing radically over time; # of faculty changing in the department; unusual teaching or service loads and why, etc.
  • Description of any unusual aspects of the case (e.g. stopped tenure clock, unusual scholarly trajectory or output for the discipline, gap in productivity, unusual load in teaching or service, unusual expectations or pressures due to identifying as underrepresented minority, dual appointment with another department…)—anything that will make this candidate sound ‘different’ from an ‘average’ candidate coming from your discipline or your department. Explain those things clearly.