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Tenure and Promotion Guidelines
Department of Physics, American University

Approved by the Office of the Provost September 27, 2023

This document serves as guidelines for evaluating the criteria of scholarship, teaching and service for Physics faculty actions concerning tenure, promotion to Associate Professor, and/or promotion to Professor.

Within physics, there is a diversity of subject areas and methods of inquiry, so any evaluation must be contextualized within the specific scholarly focus of each faculty member being evaluated. The following key principles guide evaluation across the categories of scholarship, teaching, and service:

  • Intellectual merit: We value professional activities that demonstrate authentic inquiry within or across disciplines, provide evidence of a sustained commitment to the advancement of knowledge and currency in the field, and embody the highest standards of professional integrity.
  • Broader impact: We value professional activities that advance our disciplines, provide benefit to society, engage diverse audiences, or build infrastructure for further development.
  • Inclusive community: We value professional activities that support diversity, equity, and access, create inclusive communities of practice, and increase participation in all aspects of our discipline.
  • Sustained commitment to professional development: We value faculty colleagues who demonstrate engagement with our discipline, broadly defined. The form of this commitment may change in method and focus over their careers but should maintain vitality and currency.
  • Complexity and contextuality: The diversity of fields and subjects within our discipline and the variability of professional norms and standards across those fields demand that we take a holistic view of faculty accomplishments that accounts for individual circumstances and contingencies instead of adhering to rigid interpretations of criteria.

Below, we elaborate on how these Physics Department values will be used to evaluate faculty files for action submitted for promotion and tenure. When faculty members up for an evaluation complete their files for action, they should use these criteria (as well as information in the Faculty Manual and from the Provost’s Office website, the Faculty Senate Committee on Faculty Actions, and the CAS Dean’s office) to select the evidence to present. Note that the Committee on Faculty Actions sets the last date for placing materials in the file for action and the rules for updates. Candidates should verify all relevant deadlines when they are planning to submit a file for action.


In the category of scholarship, the file for action in cases of tenure, promotion to Associate Professor, and/or promotion to Professor is expected to provide evidence that the faculty member is a recognized expert in their field. Generally, scholarship completed while at AU will be given more weight, but this balance can be adjusted for faculty bringing substantial credit towards tenure.

Candidates for tenure and promotion to Associate Professor must clearly articulate their research plans for the period after promotion. These plans may change, and in fact often do as new data, information, knowledge, skills, and applications emerge, and so the details of the plans are less important than the assurance that the candidate intends to sustain a vibrant and active commitment to research and scholarship. In the case of promotion to Professor, the file for action should demonstrate that the candidate has sustained a record of scholarly achievement since the previous evaluation. Similar plans for continued productivity should also be found in the promotion files for Associate to Full Professor.

In addition to the key principles described above, we value the following principles in the review of materials provided as evidence for scholarship (although not all these principles may be relevant to a particular candidate for tenure and/or promotion):

  • Peer review:  We value evidence of peer review of scholarship and recognize that peer review can take different forms for different people, projects, and disciplines. Besides dissemination in peer-reviewed venues, other significant indicants of this might include honors and awards from professional organizations, appointments to editorial boards or task forces, selection for organizing committees of prestigious conferences, positions in the governance of scholarly and professional organizations, or invitations to speak at prestigious conferences. Further, external letters required for tenure and promotion decisions should strongly inform the assessment of the committee.
  • Inclusive research practices and focus: We value scholarship that promotes inclusive research practices. Examples include professional research mentorship, efforts to support and/or improve diversity and representation within research endeavors, and research that makes direct inquiry into what inclusion means and how it is practiced in our disciplines.
  • Open science: Efforts to make research accessible to the community and the world through public communication, open distribution of research products, and contributions to strategic documents that guide research institutions and government agencies will be valued.

Evidence for excellence in scholarship that candidates could provide in the file for action include:

  • Publications: We apply the above key principles to publications in a variety of ways. We attend to their number, merit, impact, and/or contributions to inclusive research. Assessment of these qualities can be based on many indicants, but with recognition that all of them will require contextual information for their interpretation. When there are multiple authors, the role of the faculty member under review should be clarified in the file for action.
    • Journal articles: The file for action should provide some indicants to assess the quality and impact of individual articles (like citations, impact scores, expert testimony, reviews, and/or press coverage) and/or to assess the journal of publication (like journal acceptance rates, their impact factors, and/or their prestige ratings).
    • Books and chapters in books: These can provide significant evidence of scholarship, however this form of scholarship is less common in most areas of physics than in some humanities and social sciences. We recognize that either authorship or editorship can be a valuable contribution to a book.
    • White papers and institution-directed reports: In many physics subdisciplines, strategic planning documents can have major impact on policy and funding, and authorship or co-authorship provides evidence that a candidate is a leader and valued member of their field. Examples include decadal surveys from the National Academy of Sciences, collaboration planning documents, and funding agency roadmaps.
    • Conference proceedings: These show evidence of scholarly productivity and active participation in the community, and in some subdisciplines they are as important as journal articles. Typically, international conferences with a focused topic demonstrate a higher standard of peer review than national or regional conferences or conferences with a broader reach.
    • On-line published research, such as, research blogs, other preprint servers, etc: Evidence of impact or reach should be provided.
    • Works in progress (e.g., manuscripts under review): These can be included as evidence of sustained productivity.


  • Externally funded grants, contracts, and awards: At the time of evaluation for tenure and/or promotion, candidates must demonstrate that their history of funding is sufficient to support their research programs. The Physics Department does not have a graduate program, and this impacts the role of research funding compared to many other R2 universities. In many subdisciplines of physics, external funding is required to advance research agendas, and in all subdisciplines external funding typically provides evidence of critical peer review. Therefore, all candidates in tenure and promotion actions are expected to provide evidence of applications to appropriate external funding opportunities when necessary to support their research programs. Prestige of the funding source, strenuousness of the peer review, oversubscription rate of the funding opportunity, size of the award, and/or impact on the productivity and quality of faculty scholarship will be considered in the evaluation of external funding. The faculty member should explain their contribution if there are multiple PIs. Scores and reviews for all external funding opportunities, whether successful or not, may be submitted at the applicant’s discretion.
  • Internal grants and awards: These can be used to provide evidence of sustained productivity.
  • Conference presentations, including published abstracts of these presentations: Like conference proceedings, international conferences with a focused topic typically demonstrate a higher standard of peer review than national or regional conferences or conferences with a broader reach.
  • Indications of participation in the research community as well as acknowledgement by colleagues in that community: All candidates for tenure, promotion to Associate Professor and/or promotion to Professor are expected to show some evidence in this criterion.  Possible indications include
    • Appointments to grant review panels
    • Selection as a reviewer of journal manuscripts
    • Reviewer of candidates for tenure/promotion at other universities
    • Invited seminars, short courses, and colloquia
    • Invitations to speak at other universities; or requests to serve on PhD committees at other institutions
    • Formal and informal connections to local research institutions, scientific collaborations, and funding agencies
  • Research-capacity building:
    • Securing and managing external grants to support multi-investigator or multi-disciplinary research projects at American University or multi-institution research programs in the region
    • Leadership and administration in scientific or research endeavors


Candidates for tenure and/or promotion to Associate Professor must demonstrate that they have achieved excellence in teaching. Candidates for promotion to Professor must demonstrate a sustained record of excellence in teaching. In general, the faculty member will be expected to demonstrate efficacy in AU Core courses, as well as courses designed specifically for Physics majors and minors. Collaborative research with students is important to the Physics Department’s mission, so the candidate should provide evidence of research mentorship and/or professional development activities with undergraduate students. As noted previously, the Department of Physics currently has no graduate students but interdisciplinary collaborations with other programs are valued.

As evidence of teaching excellence, candidates for tenure and/or promotion should provide a Teaching Portfolio (see Dean of Faculty website > “Faculty Resources” for details) that includes at least one submission for each of the five sections and an additional section with evidence of undergraduate research mentorship and/or professional development activities.

The following considerations should inform what evidence is included in the Teaching Portfolio (and additional section) and how it is evaluated:

  • Peer review of teaching: We expect the members of the Rank and Tenure Committee and/or the department chair to schedule a visit to the classroom of any faculty member who will be coming up for an action. The faculty member under review will provide course materials such as syllabi to the reviewers and will receive feedback at the time of review. These visits will be documented, and a record will be included in the file for action. Other evidence of peer view includes
    • Selection as a consultant or expert by external organizations for teaching-related projects
    • Teaching awards and grants, internal or external
  • Research supervision: This involves supervision of capstones, independent study projects, and other student research activities. We consider both the quantity and quality of research supervision. Among the factors we consider are:
    • Number of research supervisees
    • Student feedback on the quality of the professor’s supervision of them
    • Number and quality of publications and conference presentations with students
    • Funding for student research acquired
  • Intentional and effective teaching: Candidates should demonstrate efforts to enhance student learning.  This could include:
    • Contributions to efforts to support diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) in the field, such as attending DEIA training through HR, CTRL, etc; working to ensure access and equity when serving on committees and participating in activities (searches, curriculum, retention and advising, outreach); and working to ensure that the courses they teach provide curricula that involve inclusive pedagogy
    • Demonstration of attention to both course and department learning outcomes. Evidence for this could include formal and informal measures of student learning, course material development, annotated syllabi, and research-based pedagogy in the classroom
    • Participation in professional development workshops and other activities that may lead to enhanced teaching strategies and student learning experiences
    • Community-based teaching and learning, both formal and informal
  • Course Evaluations: The course evaluation scores will be assessed in the context of each class, taking into account indicants such as the class size, the diversity of faculty and students, the inclusion of a laboratory component to the class, the number of times that the instructor has taught the course, the instructor’s inclusion of innovative pedagogy, etc. We encourage the course evaluations to be analyzed in context and using appropriate statistical measures. For subsequent promotion actions, the candidate will be expected to show a sustained record of teaching at this level. In the teaching portfolio section on course evaluations, candidates should address scores that are below expectations; a discussion of student narrative comments in the context of the course may be useful in these cases. Using the current version of course evaluations, the following ratings receive special attention from higher levels in the review process, and so particular attention should be paid by the faculty member under review and the Rank and Tenure Committee:
    • Ratings of the degree to which the instructor required high levels of performance
    • Overall ratings of instructor
    • Ratings of students’ satisfaction with what they have learned in the course
    • Overall ratings of course
  • Programmatic and educational capacity-building:
    • New course and new program development
    • Peer observation of colleagues inside and outside the department
    • Development and deployment of information technology or innovative methods in teaching
    • Contribution to department assessment activities, in producing materials for review or reviewing materials, or both
    • Development and dissemination of education resources


Candidates for tenure or promotion must show evidence of service to the Department, the College, and the University. The service requirements for promotion to Professor will exceed those needed to achieve tenure or promotion to Associate Professor. Evaluators should understand that the small size of the department necessitates that all Physics faculty contribute substantially to departmental committees and service at a rate higher than typical for research universities.

Besides the overarching principles identified in the opening section, two additional key principles will serve as guidance when evaluating service:

  • Recognizing invisible labor: Reviews of faculty files should be alert for implicit biases. In particular, the formal and informal contributions of faculty to promoting and sustaining an inclusive and equitable climate on campus and in their professional milieu should be recognized and valued in reviews.
  • Integration of the practice of equity within leadership, mentorship, and all activities: Previous sections explain that we value leadership and mentorship not just as service, but also as part of research and teaching. Within leadership and mentorship, faculty members should aspire to create processes, policies, and tools that promote equitable and inclusive practices within the Physics Department, AU, and the professional discipline. Evidence of professional development in these activities is encouraged and should be valued by reviewers.

Service activities that are expected of all candidates for tenure and/or promotion to Associate Professor or Professor include:

  • Participation on Department committees
  • Participation on College or University committees
  • Recruitment and/or development at Departmental, College or University levels

Service activities that could be appropriate for all candidates for tenure and/or promotion to Associate Professor or Professor, but that are not required, include:

  • Active involvement in professional societies
  • Service to government and non-profit agencies and organizations on scientific matters

Service activities appropriate for faculty with tenure, a selection of which will be expected of candidates for promotion to Professor, include:

  • Chair of department committees
  • Director of program or chair of department
  • Mentoring of junior faculty
  • Leadership on College or University committees
  • Leadership in outside professional organizations or professional societies

Final Notes:

  • These criteria may also be used as the basis for reappointment and annual merit review scores by the Rank and Tenure Committee and the Chair.
  • Gödel’s Theorem proves that every axiomatic system is incomplete. In as much as these criteria form an axiomatic system, this theorem guarantees that exceptions to this evaluation system must exist.