I've just finished my first external review for a tenure case. I'm pretty sure that saying that doesn't violate any sort of confidentiality, but I won't go any further to name institution, field, department, or anything, much less what the content of that review was.
So, if I'm determined not to say anything, then why the Vagueblogging? (Yes, I just made that up. Yes, it's horrible.) Well, it's because it got me thinking of what our roles as midcareer and senior faculty are.
There are lots of times that I've been part of an anonymous review process: article manuscript reviews are the most frequent, but there have also been book reviews, and now a tenure case. We've probably all had the experience of getting back a review that convinced us that the person writing it saw it as their job to shred us to bits. Rationally, I don't think that's ever the case. No one, in their heart, is Darth Vader. Ideally, we'd all like to think we come to every review a blank slate. But I've found that there is always one of two voices whispering in my ear.
One of these, I call The Gatekeeper. This entity says that it's my job as a reviewer to make sure that everything meets a certain standard, else the phrase "peer reviewed" means nothing. The Gatekeeper knows that "a certain standard" is entirely subjective, but she refuses to talk about that.
The other, I call The Advocate. This one reminds me that I never know whether my verdict is going to make or break someone's career. I should actively look for ways to say yes. The Gatekeeper sneers, pokes her in the gut, and accuses her of having no standards and watering down the profession as a whole. The Advocate tells the Gatekeeper that maybe a "no" should be a "revise and resubmit," because that, at least, lets someone improve. She speculates that the Gatekeeper gets a kick out of crushing young scholars due to her own insecurities. Voices are raised. There is an unseemly scuffle.
I would be surprised if there was anyone in a position to review (even signed book reviews!) that hadn't heard both of these voices at one time or another. And the scuffles are only going to get more frequent as we advance in our careers and come to be regarded as people with the Authority to Pronounce. We've probably encountered folks who we think are pure Advocate or Gatekeeper, yet we see ourselves as always a little of both, and constantly hope for an objectivity that we know doesn't exist this side of the grave.
So, out with it: Advocate or Gatekeeper? Or do you have totally different voices in your head?