Last night I was out with friends to commiserate with one about his not passing the 3-year review. I tried to say that with as much of a positive spin as possible, but it's just hard to do. The whole situation sucks. Since Mr. Geeky and I have been here, we have seen quite a few people not get past this mark, but this was the first friend that we've seen this happen to. In previous cases, we either haven't known enough to make any judgement calls or there was some horrible and obvious reason why someone wouldn't get reappointed at the three-year review. Our consensus last night was that there was something wrong with the process. Many people tell junior faculty that the 3-year review is merely a formality, to make sure you're on the right track toward tenure. Some faculty menors know better and have prepared their mentees for the review as much as they would for tenure. There's real inconsistency in the message. As I said last night, the job search is enough of a crap shoot, keeping your job shouldn't be a crap shoot, too.
Although there is a lot of information about the process and what one needs to turn it at what time (cv, dossier, publications, etc.), there are no clear guidelines about what you need to have accomplished in order to be reappointed. This is true for tenure as well. There's no list that says, you need x number of articles, an average rating of x on teaching evaluations and to have served on x number of committees. Even if they don't write these things down, someone (Department chair, chair of the appointments committee?) should give this information to the candidate. Even direct inquiry often results in vague answers: oh, just have good research and teaching. What does that mean?
Although I hate to see someone fall off the track in this way, every time I see this happen to someone, it reminds me of why I got off the train in the first place. I couldn't take this kind of pressure. Of course, I'm riding sidecar to someone else and if he falls off (we find out next year), what will I do? And that's another tragedy in this case. The college will actually lose two good people as a result of this.
And, of course, there are no guidelines for staff either, which has the opposite effect. Instead of losing good people to a vague process, many people who should probably be eliminated end up staying.