By Benjamin Pontz, Editor-in-Chief
The faculty held its first official business meeting of the semester Thursday afternoon and spent the bulk of it discussing a trio of proposed changes to the Faculty Handbook about tenure and promotion criteria and procedures.
The Faculty Personnel Committee (FPC), which oversees the tenure and promotion process, presented the package of amendments. The proposals followed a report in 2016 from an ad hoc committee on tenure and promotion and are intended to reflect the will of the faculty, FPC Chair and Ronald J. Smith Professor of Applied Physics Bret Crawford said.
Proposal 1: Handling conflicts of interest in departmental tenure review committees
The first proposal would allow a candidate for promotion to request that the Provost determine the membership of a departmental evaluation committee if circumstances within the department would “interfere with an accurate departmental assessment.” Those scenarios could include a conflict of interest, a documented history of conflict, or the absence of a senior member of a department to lead the review committee. In such cases, the Provost would consult with the Chair of the Faculty Grievance Committee and the candidate in determining the composition of the departmental committee before making a final decision. Crawford emphasized that this would apply only in rare circumstances and would not give license to candidates who believe a member of their department looks negatively at their tenure case to manufacture a history of conflict.
Both Associate Professor of Music Avner Dorman and Associate Professor of Kurt Andresen expressed concerns that, with such a clear process allowing candidates to challenge the composition of departmental review committees, these circumstances would become more common. Professor of Theatre Arts Christopher Kauffman said that if there were a documented case of inappropriate behavior from a faculty member towards a tenure candidate, that faculty member should not be on the candidate’s review committee anyway, irrespective of any new process. This led to a conversation about whether the Provost would already be aware of inappropriate behavior between faculty members. Provost Chris Zappe said that, in most cases, he would be aware.
“If there is a conflict among faculty, I’m aware of it,” Zappe said, adding, after a pause, “if it’s documented.”
On more procedural grounds, Harold G. Evans Professor of Eisenhower Leadership Studies Brendan Cushing-Daniels objected to the motion because of how it expands the role of the Faculty Grievance Committee, a committee that Cushing-Daniels said has “one job, and it is only in the case of grievance related to wrongful denial of tenure and promotion. Period.” If a candidate for tenure or promotion wanted to appeal after they had gone through a process in which the Chair of the Faculty Grievance Committee had input with respect to who participated in the departmental review, that chair would probably have to recuse themselves, leaving the Grievance Committee shorthanded. He suggested that, if an outside faculty member is to be involved in the process, it should be from another pool such as former members of FPC.
Proposal 2: Adjusting language about standards for promotion to full professor
The second proposal would amend language in the Faculty Handbook about the standards for promotion from associate professor to full professor by removing language that said candidates’ scholarship needed to have gone beyond what they achieved in their initial promotion to associate professor and to reflect “greater maturity” as a scholar. It would also add language suggesting that teaching and advising have value and should be considered.
(Background: Among tenure-track professors, assistant professor is the lowest rank and does not include tenure. After six years, an assistant professor is considered for promotion to associate professor with tenure based on their teaching, their scholarship, and their service to the college and to the profession. Several years after that, generally at least six, an associate professor can be considered based on the same three areas for promotion to full professor, the highest rank, which comes with a pay increase.)
This proposal stemmed from a recommendation made by an ad hoc committee on tenure and promotion, and it aimed to reduce the impression that scholarship is the most important factor in promotion decisions to full professor when, according to faculty surveyed by that committee, teaching ought to be a more prominent factor in those reviews.
“We have tried to address that by removing language that seems to imply that scholarship is the most important criteria,” Crawford said.
Crawford also mentioned that the ad hoc committee found that 80% of faculty surveyed felt that promotion to full professor should be a natural progression of one’s career rather than an exceptionalism.
That led Professor of Music Marta Robertson to ask whether this amendment is a change in standard or merely a change in language to better explain existing standards. Crawford said that the amendment is an endeavor to clarify what the current standard is. Professor of Psychology Nathalie Goubet said that the ad hoc committee found that many members of the faculty viewed promotion to full professor as something that was unattainable, such that clarifying the language in the Faculty Handbook might help faculty better understand what the expectations are.
The amendment would also add evaluation of faculty members’ advising to the process for promotion to full professor. Associate Professor of Health Sciences Josef Brandauer, who was recently appointed Director of the Johnson Center for Teaching and Learning, asked whether the college has standards for what constitutes effective advising and noted that there are significant disparities across departments in the number of students a faculty member is expected to advise. Crawford said that there is no college-wide standard, but that individual departments could develop guidelines for their faculty members.
Provost Chris Zappe argued that advising and mentoring is crucial to student retention and needs to be documented and evaluated. “The time is coming,” he said, for such evaluation to be considered as part of faculty members’ performance reviews, including for promotion.
Proposal 3: Departmental standards for teaching and service
The final proposal asks departments to develop standards for all three areas of promotion evaluations: scholarship, teaching, and service. Already, departments are required to have standards about what constitutes a high level of scholarship. To date, 11 of the 28 departments have developed guidelines about what constitutes effective teaching and service, but, under this proposal, all departments would be asked to do so.
Crawford admitted, “This is basically just more work for the departments.”
He added, though, that FPC has benefited greatly from departmental guidelines to date and would appreciate guidance as to what constitutes a high level of performance in other areas, particularly teaching, across the disciplines.
Other News and Notes
- Vice President of Information Technology Rod Tosten announced that faculty members would soon be required to use two-factor authentication to access certain secure systems. The college network experiences 15,000 attacks per day, Tosten said, which makes information security a high priority.
- President Bob Iuliano thanked members of the faculty for attending a special meeting to hear about the college’s financial status and promised that those discussions would continue throughout the semester both among faculty and with the Board of Trustees.
- Iuliano also pointed the faculty to his announcement in a campus-wide email that he has formed a Sustainability Advisory Committee that will be co-chaired by Thompson Professor of Environmental Studies Randy Wilson and Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Pete North.
- The faculty’s next meeting will be on Feb. 20.