During four decades of attacks on tenure and shared governance in universities, the one thing that academics have historically been permitted to retain is a system of academic esteem bestowed by promotion to professor. The feature on the transformation from doctor to professor published commentaries that mentioned the status of the role and opportunities, once the accolade has been secured, to take risks in research (“Promoted from doctor to professor: what changes?”, Features, 10 November).
The message was that to be promoted to professor confers a sense of arrival after many years of academic toil and accomplishment. These interviewees embraced traditional certainties; just one mentioned a sense of feeling like a freelancer in the absence of criteria for professorial pay. But for professors in many universities, the reality has become unanchored from the myth. It is not a lack of clear criteria that impedes professorial progress, rather it is the over-zealous implementation of quite unattainable targets in the guise of performance management.
In several universities, as well as undergoing performance reviews as frequently as newly appointed probationers, professors must now meet exacting criteria for “quality” of publications. Progression to the next professorial level must be achieved within five years, and this depends on meeting certain “drivers”, which include securing a research grant as principal investigator every two years, producing 3* and 4* research excellence framework “outputs”, supervising graduate students, producing a significant impact case study, leading high-prestige international collaborations and, of course, continuing to teach. Failure to meet all these expectations will result in the public humiliation of the Improving Performance Procedure, and possible demotion. No accrual of reputation can be permitted; the criteria must be met every year, not just over the course of a distinguished career. In this way, any prestige associated with the rank of professor must be considered temporary, as is its tenure. Professors, then, have been made to join the expanding precariat of the academy.