Absent Autonomy: Relational Competence and Gendered Paths to Faculty Self-Determination in the Promotion and Tenure Process

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Abstract

This research examines ways in which men and women university faculty sought self-determination in the promotion and tenure (P&T) process. Self-Determination Theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 2012) research tends to view autonomy as the central factor in self-determination, taking priority over other psychological needs of relatedness and competence. The P&T process occurs within a context that inherently limits autonomy, providing a unique opportunity to examine experiences of relatedness and competence when autonomy is constrained. We used a qualitative research strategy with a matched case study design to explore how individuals experience the constructs of SDT (i.e., autonomy, competence, and relatedness) within the P&T process. Our project focuses on faculty in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) departments undergoing P&T review at one university. Women faculty in STEM were compared with men faculty at the same rank and in similar departments concurrently going through P&T review. Findings showed that men reported experiencing self-determination via informational competence whereas women approached self-determination through relational competence. Creating a level playing field for faculty navigating the P&T process requires being attuned to different paths to self-determination, fostering relationships between faculty, and clarifying policies and procedures.

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