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 their contributions to the discipline or beyond, and explain anything that could confuse 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. If any of the committees become confused while reviewing the dossier, it may cause them to doubt the candidate. Clarity and complete explanations will create a smoother path for your candidate’s file.

Checklist for contents of letter:

  • A brief description of candidate, including when and why they were initially hired
  • Details of the departmental vote, including:
    • The results of the vote (for example: a unanimous vote, or a vote count of five yes votes, three no votes and two abstentions)
    • The number of faculty members who did not attend the departmental vote and, when possible, their reasons for not attending
    • The comments and/or reasons for giving tenure to the candidate
    • Any concerns expressed in the meeting and how they could affect the candidate from achieving tenure
    • Note where in the dossier readers can find the minutes of the voting meeting, which should be included as a separate document in the file
    • Describe your departmental bylaws and/or traditions on who votes on tenure cases
  • The procedures for selecting external reviewers and appropriateness of reviewers; this process must be explained in a required separate document but should also be referenced in the Chair’s letter. Please explain:
    • Why those particular reviewers were selected
    • 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 Council on Promotion and Continuing Appointment members in your letter.)
    • The reviewers' relationships with candidate and how these individuals qualify as "at arm’s length"
    • What the reviewers were asked to review
    • the request letter reviewers received (Note: this letter should be included in the dossier, so please briefly explain this request and then tell readers where to find the full copy within the file.)
  • A 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 and/or placed into context.
  • The 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.
  • A description of the kinds of work recognized as "scholarly" in the discipline or sub-discipline (for example: 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.
  • A 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...)
  • A 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. (For example: Where do they rank in the discipline or sub-discipline? Top tier? Bottom quality? Who says so?)
      • Clear and thorough citation analyses (Note: This can be a separate document but should be referenced in your discussion of the candidate’s work.)
      • When co-authored work is present, explain where in the dossier the candidate’s contributions are explained. Co-authors may be asked to describe such contributions. (Note: Co-authors’ letters will not be counted as among the external review letters.)
    • Teaching, in comparison to departmental average
      • Courses taught
      • Quality of teaching
      • Graduate students overseen / PhDs completed (Note: Depending on discipline, this could land in research column.)
      • Curriculum and new course development
    • Service: Load and quality of work, as reported by colleagues
  • A description and explanation of any unusual aspects of the department that affect the candidate’s trajectory, such as the number of students changing radically over time, the number of faculty changing in the department, or unusual teaching or service loads.
  • A description of any unusual aspects of the case (for example: 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). This could be anything that will make this candidate sound "different" from an "average" candidate coming from your discipline or department. Explain those things clearly.