I have recently gone through the 1940 document on Academic Freedom and Tenure and found the magic 7 year tenure track number. This dates back over 70 years? Wow. It may be time for an update.
Let’s assume that a big part of obtaining tenure is research and publication. Think about how that was accomplished in 1940. Let’s say I wanted to study the behavior of widgets. I get a bunch of them, test them, write down my results in a notebook, fire up my pencil and paper and spend months crunching data. Then I pull out my manual typewriter and start typing away, maybe stopping from time to time to spend a few hours hand-drawing the figures that would accompany my article. So in 7 years, how many studies can I finish and publish? 2? 3?
Now think about today. I get my widgets and run the tests. Given modern equipment, depending on the tests, they probably run a lot faster. I record my data into my spreadsheet and almost instantly have my analysis. I copy and paste that into my word processor, re-format, put out a pdf and and ship it via email to my reviewers and eventually, the publication. How many of those can I do in 7 years?
I am not saying that the system is flawed. In fact, I would think that the 7 years is likely a good amount of time to gain the academic mindset that one would likely need to be an effective professor. But, the standards for performance have certainly changed in the 70+ years since the 7-year timeline was created. Should it be re-visited? What do you think?