At Amherst College, where I’ve taught for more 20 years (oy, gevalt!), a couple of years ago a tenure case was brought down in part because of the word “solid.” I’ve put it in quote marks in part because tenure cases are multiheaded monsters: Their rise or fall as a result of countless factors. In this particular one, one of the factors–and, ultimately, a stumbling block–was this much-contested word.
An outside reviewer had used it to describe a candidate’s publications record. It became a subject of debate among the Committee of Six and the department supporting the candidate.
Here I need to offer a quick crash course through the college’s hierarchical structure, or at least a portion of it. The Committee of Six, a judicial body of elected faculty whose job it is to legislate on a large number of issues, is in charge of reviewing tenure cases once the candidate’s department has offered its recommendations. For these cases, the C6 looks at, among other things, every student evaluation, every letter from peers, and every outside review with utmost dedication. In other words, it is a painful, meticulous process of what I call logocrasy: a Kafkaesque labyrinth of language. The president then endorses or rejects the C6 tenure recommendation.