Dan Drezner and his wife have parallel columns in the Chronicle of Higher Education addressing the experience of tenure denial. It is still shocking to put Dan into that category of a tenure denial-ee, as he has been consistently one of the most productive, influential, and, indeed, successful political scientists of his generation. But his experience (and that of another excellent scholar rejected by the tenured folks at Chicago that year) reflects an enduring reality in the academic world: you will get tenured and promoted if the tenured folks want to do so, and you will not if they do not.
That is, merit sometimes has something to do with it, but often not. Departments will grant tenure and/or promote someone even if they fall short of contemporary standards if they want that person tenured and/promoted And departments will ignore contemporary standards and deny tenure/promotion if they don't want to give it. Dan's take on his past and his wife's reflections do a great job of showing how one deals with such a career reversal. I have friends who have been through worse experiences as Dan landed on his feet immediately. Given the investment of time and effort to hit a wall after five or six years in a place is just very tough, especially when the job market is particularly bad. Smart departments will hire such folks. My old place was smart enough to do that on at least one occasion, and my current department took advantage of another bad decision made by Chicago that year.
But the feelings do linger. Is Dan still bitter? Just a bit. Am I bitter for him? Sure. Do I understand what he has been through? Just a bit. Someday I will blog more directly about flawed promotion processes. Just not today. Dan has ably taken the floor, only to be out-classed by his wife. Do take a look and see what they have to say.