In my MRU the role of department or department committee in promotion is highly variable within the school of medicine. For example, in my department there was not even a promotions committee 10 years ago, and promotions and tenure was entirely on the whim of the chair. While there is such a committee now, and I am part of it, it is still mostly the cronies of the chair. And, even when the spineess worms manage to stand up to the chair, he has over-ruled our decisions (both type 1 and type 2 errors). Needless to say, there are other more reasonable departments. One of the most significant school level improvements is a mandated review in the Office of the Dean for all faculty every three years. That office has overruled dept chairs in a number of instances.
But the hard decisions are made at the School of Medicine level. That is, most chairs are willing to take a chance and push people (they care about) along. The SOM committees (one for each rank) do not publish figures on success rates, but within my department it was about 50-60% on first try. It’s important to add, that unlike many A&S departments, there is no “up or out” provision. There are elderly assistant professors (usually called physicians).
The whole process is anxiety provoking, soul numbing, and a horrific waste of time. It rewards dreadful behavior (glamour journal seeking and fad research). It has the potential to destroy the wonder and joy that accompanies doing research.
But from my end of the time scale, it has another impact, which could be labeled the “Killz teh Oldies” effect. Yup, there are lots of greybeards and blue hairs taking up grants and labs and space that could be better used by the Appollonic Youth of Today. But I’ve watched tenure turn many of my peers, who were the young bitching about the elderly 20 years ago, into mental zombies. No one worries about these guys slurping at the NIH trough, as they wouldn’t have a chance in hell. [This, by the way, is why its hard to take the calls for no grants for the over-65 set seriously. All too soon, some of those making the calls will join those being called upon. There is nothing like a little time to give your perspective].
Nope, a 5 year review period, with appropriate protection and oversight might have kept some of these people active, publishing and thinking. They were good years ago. They were funded and publishing and training. They haven’t become idiots. They’ve just, it seems, forgotten what hard work is like. Maybe they’re tired. Maybe they’re bored, and maybe there is no accountability. This is not a detailed perspectus on what to do. Its just one more observation on what is wrong with senority, promotions and the population problem in research.