From a plaintive little piece in Inside Higher Ed today:
But research expectations have changed college-wide. Determining exactly when has been difficult, but the climate here is most certainly at a different place than it was a few years back. Vagueness was replaced with exactness. A numerical value was established as the minimum standard for being on track for tenure: three is that value, and the value shall be three.
The author is upset with the consequences, as illustrated by the case of one of his colleagues:
About seven years ago, my department hired a promising young biologist who was enthusiastic about teaching and already established as a talented researcher. She was hired during our “vagueness” period. She was told the same thing that I was years earlier: for research publications, one is a must, more is better.
But while this young faculty member was traveling down this path, a detour suddenly appeared: The exactness period was ushered in. The short version of a rather nasty story is that my colleague was seemingly held to the new standards. It goes without saying that, if true, this was not a fair or appropriate practice for tenure protocol. No doubt you have predicted the outcome of her tenure decision: She was denied.
I've only seen this sort of sudden standards-change occur at minor state schools trying to better themselves after dicta from on high: usually such places already have much more structured personnel policies, so it's really obvious when bars are raised. In fact, I've never heard anyone at a liberal arts college (whether Granolan, or better, or worse), give a straight numerical answer when asked how many publications were required for tenure. That vagueness seems almost to be an institutional requirement (and is certainly a key part of how we evaluate students, too): is the author's school building towards some larger change in category?
Yet, at the same time, we've clearly had quite a bit of evolution in requirements over the last thirty years. (My impression is that, back in the day, the administration didn't really understand that, say, it was papers, rather than books, that were important for scientists; they still have some issues with recognizing outside grant money as a good and important thing.) I'm guessing this has been driven by our wanting to continue hiring people from top graduate schools, but who can say?
There are some terrific comments (on changing students and their changing expectations, on developing research independence) and only a little trollage, on the original article.