Report of the ad hoc Committee to Review Tenure/Promotion Procedures

 

Faculty Senate President Jeff Cox charged this ad hoc committee on February 11 to review the current procedures by which faculty are evaluated for tenure and/or promotion.  In order to meet this charge, the committee met with representatives of the Offices of the Provost, Affirmative Action, and Ombudsperson; with representatives of all colleges; and with representatives of the AAUP.  We also received archival materials from the committee chaired by Professor William Buss that made a series of recommendations that resulted in the current procedures.  Meetings were conducted during the months of February, March, April and May.  The committee then reviewed all materials we received (recommendations from the College of Liberal Arts and from AAUP are enclosed with this report) as well as the information received during all meetings.  We determined a series of recommendations for changes in current procedures and we also decided to include in our report recommendations we received for changes that we did not endorse.  Thus, this report is organized into three sections.  First, we recommend changes in the current procedures for tenure/promotion evaluation.  Second, we summarize recommendations we received that we wish to note for the record.  Third, we respond to the questions posed by Faculty Senate President Jeff Cox in his charge to us. 

 

Recommended Changes

 

Two aspects of the current procedures most frequently addressed in our meetings with campus units were also the two aspects we believe should be clarified, in the first case, and changed, in the second case: the role of the internal peer review in the candidate’s department, and candidate access to materials in the dossier.  We also recommend a third change in procedures, one minor change, and two areas for future consideration.

 

I.                    Internal peer review

 

We recommend that the internal peer review mechanism of the current procedures be maintained with the following components.

·                    A group of one or more persons who perform

·                    A campus-based evaluation, without access to external peer reviews of scholarship, that serves as

·                    An evaluation of teaching, research and service beyond a description of what the candidate has already included in the dossier. 

·                    This report is provided to the candidate; if factual errors are detected, the candidate may add a response to the dossier before it is reviewed by the departmental faculty.

 

The current procedures essentially contain these features.  However, we found widespread confusion and disagreement among colleges regarding this first step in departmental decision-making.  For example, departments reported these reviews to be descriptive when the current procedures indicate this review is to be an evaluation.  Departments found the process to be burdensome even though the current procedures allow this process to be completed by one person or a very small group.  Departments noted this process was redundant with departmental decision-making when the current procedures clearly specify this step to occur prior to consideration of outside reviews.  We very much liked the description of this step used by one academic unit:  “a family rather than a field perspective.”

 

We endorse continuing this step because, in our view, it has two clear strengths.  First, it allows the candidate access to the initial point of evaluation so that factual errors can be corrected before the process goes further.  We also believe that the first point of evaluation, albeit preliminary, should be internal in nature.

 

Confusion may have arisen because the procedures do not currently contain language in one place that describes this step.  Rather, the language is contained in sections that discuss evaluation of teaching (C 7-8), scholarship (D 3 a,b,c), and service (E 3-4).  Additionally, colleges may develop their own policies for the composition of the group that performs this evaluation (Appendix A).  We recommend that revised procedures contain a single description of this step that highlights the goals of these reports (preliminary, departmental evaluation).

 

II.                 Candidate access to dossier

 

There is widespread disagreement on campus regarding candidate access to materials in the dossier.  At one end of the continuum are people who argue for complete transparency: candidates should have access to all materials, including outside letters by peer reviewers and evaluations by students (after redaction to protect the identity of the reviewer).  At the other end of the continuum are people who argue that the candidate should only access materials once the Provost has made a final decision on tenure and/or promotion.   We summarize the arguments as we heard them below.

 

Complete access is said to increase transparency and engender fairness and due process.

 

No access is said to allow candidates to be evaluated stringently by internal and external evaluators who will not worry about offending a candidate with less than only positive observations.  Further, no access is more of a national norm and does not risk reducing the pool of outside reviewers.  No access reduces the likelihood that a candidate will take another offer during the evaluation process because he or she was concerned by a negative recommendation that was not eventually upheld at later points (e.g., the department recommended against tenure but the dean recommended in favor and the Provost concurred).

 

The current system (limited access) is said to maintain an open process.  Several units noted that if the DEO or collegial groups fear to write a letter that is balanced and includes both positive and negative features of the candidate’s credentials, they should not be engaged in the task of evaluation.  In all other contexts in which faculty are evaluated (e.g., scholarship, external funding), reviewers are able and willing to write balanced reviews.

 

We concluded that what is most desirable is a system in which the candidate has some access to materials but not complete access, and in which routine access is given to evaluations produced early in the process and are most determinative (e.g., departmental level).  In order to implement the process we believe should occur, we recommend that the collegiate consulting groups be required to complete a written report to be added to the dossier.

 

We recommend that candidate access be altered as follows:

 

The candidate receives the internal peer reviews of teaching, research and service and can respond to factual errors.  If the candidate does write a response, that response is included in the dossier before its submission to the departmental consulting group.

 

The candidate receives the final report of the departmental consulting group, including the vote for or against tenure/promotion, and can respond to factual errors. If the candidate does write a response, that response is included in the dossier before its review by the DEO.

 

The candidate does not receive the DEO’s letter and evaluation unless the DEO recommends against tenure/promotion.  If the DEO’s recommendation is against tenure/promotion, then the candidate receives a copy of the DEO letter to the dean.  In that event, as in the current procedures, the candidate can request and receive redacted evaluations by external reviewers and students and can respond to the negative recommendation and provide additional information as appropriate.

 

The candidate does not receive the written report of the collegiate consulting group unless that group advises the dean against tenure/promotion.  If that group’s recommendation is against tenure/promotion, then the candidate receives a copy of the group’s report.  In that event, the candidate can request and receive redacted evaluations by external reviewers and students, and can respond to the negative recommendation and provide additional information as appropriate.

 

The candidate does not receive the dean’s recommendation to the Provost unless the dean advises against tenure/promotion.  If the dean advises the Provost against granting tenure/promotion, then the candidate receives a copy of the dean’s letter to the Provost. In that event, the candidate can request and receive redacted evaluations by external reviewers and students, and can respond to the negative recommendation and provide additional information as appropriate.

 

It should be noted that we recommend adding a requirement that the collegiate consulting group produce a brief report that is available to the candidate in the event that group recommends against tenure/promotion and that is contained in the dossier for consideration by the dean and Provost.  Our reason for this change is to increase candidate access to a deliberative process that is currently absent in the written materials.  However, we recommend limiting candidate access to this report to a negative recommendation. 

 

It is critical to add that we believe evaluations, reports and letters in the dossier, including but not limited to what we now recommend be produced by the collegiate consulting group, do not need to restate what has been stated in earlier reports.  One frequent complaint by units is the burden imposed by writing extensive reports and evaluations.  We believe reports can refer to earlier evaluations contained in the dossier without repeating content, and this practice should be implemented across all colleges.  Only in the event of an evaluation different from what is previously contained in the dossier should a report need to be extensive in content.

 

III.               Dossier management

 

While some units provide the candidate with extensive support in the preparation of the dossier, others do not.  One burden we heard about frequently was the burden placed on the candidate in the preparation of the dossier.  We would note that if the candidate begins to prepare the dossier as part of the annual review, and updates it each year, then the burden at the point of tenure is reduced considerably.  However, it is important that candidates be provided with accurate, complete, and helpful information on the required contents of the dossier along with some examples.

 

Thus, we recommend that units designate a person to be available to candidates during the preparation of the dossier who can provide updated information; who is very knowledgeable regarding University, collegiate and departmental policies and procedures; and who can function in somewhat of a mentor role to the candidate in the development of the dossier.

 

IV.              Joint appointments

 

There needs to be clarification on campus regarding the role of secondary or tertiary units (in the case of joint appointments) in deliberations regarding tenure/promotion.  There has been some work in this regard by a group examining interdisciplinary activities on campus, and that report can serve as a preliminary means to define procedures for involving the other units in the primary unit’s deliberation.  We also recommend that the degree of involvement be defined in a letter to the candidate signed by both appointing departments/units/programs at the time of the initial joint appointment.

 

V.                 Flexibility vs. consistency

 

There were occasions where units indicated a need for a departure from the procedures that we regarded as legitimate.  As an example, a small unit without many senior faculty members felt deprived of the input of the DEO during the departmental meeting.  While the DEO’s role was minimized in the current procedures to eliminate undue (negative) influence, there is a clear need for his/her input in other contexts.

 

Thus, we recommend that, once procedures are finalized, a department be allowed to apply to the Provost for an exemption from the procedures for a legitimate and valid reason.  We would note that these exceptions should, themselves, have a “high bar.”  That is, the Provost should be quite convinced that the exemption adds value, fairness and weight to the evaluation, not just that the unit wishes to be different.

 

Recommendations received

 

We received many other recommendations for changes that we are including in our report so that they can be discussed.  We summarize them below by stage of evaluation and we offer our opinion on some, but not all, of the recommendations.

 

Departmental-level evaluation

 

1.                  Have the tenure dossier include materials from previous annual reviews and/or the third year renewal

 

One college believes that the candidate should be evaluated in the context of previous evaluations, including the third year renewal.  No other unit mentioned this recommendation. 

 

2.                  Have the candidate report on “flexible load” assignments in the dossier

 

We disagreed with this recommendation because of the potential for bringing a criterion to bear on the decision for tenure/promotion not contained in the current criteria.

 

3.                  Reduce the number of outside letters from reviewers

 

Some units believed the number of outside letters was burdensome, especially in small or specialized fields.  The current procedures suggest 4 – 8 with colleges establishing the exact number.  Thus, we believe colleges can make desired changes in this procedure themselves.

 

4.                  Do not allow the candidate to view the list of reviewers; rather, have the candidate indicate at the beginning of the process of selecting outside reviewers any person(s) who the candidate believes would have a conflict of interest in evaluating the candidate’s work

 

Many units believe that allowing candidates access to the final list of reviewers compromises confidentiality of reviewers in the event the candidate can access the reviews.  Although reviews are redacted, the candidate may be able to identify reviewers since the candidate has seen the initial list.

 

5.                  Allow the candidate to view and approve all reviewers, including members of the internal peer review committee

 

Some have argued that increased transparency would make the evaluation process fairer.

 

6.                  Identify to the candidate the member(s) of the internal peer review group

 

Some have argued that this increased transparency would make the evaluation process fairer.  Some units already do identify the internal peer review group and we can find no language in the procedures that suggests the membership is confidential.

 

7.                   “Soften” the language regarding external peer reviewers

 

This suggestion comes about because sometimes the best external reviewer is not at a “peer institution” but rather at a lesser institution although a better program, or at a research laboratory, or in a governmental agency.  The current procedures do contain explicit language allowing this possibility so we do not recommend any change.

 

8.                  Eliminate the provision that the external reviewer can waive his/her right to confidentiality

 

This provision is not in the procedures themselves but rather in a sample letter the DEO sends to outside reviewers.  We agree that reviewers should not be given this right.

 

9.                  Eliminate the requirement that the DEO keep a record of contacts with outside reviewers

 

Some units felt this requirement was burdensome.

 

10.              Eliminate the internal peer review performed without access to outside reviews

 

Although we received this suggestion from several units, as we discuss above, we do not agree with it.

 

11.              Allow the appointment of an additional external evaluator to review aspects of scholarly or creative work that “cannot be adequately judged through reproduction”

 

This suggestion came from one unit and could be handled either through collegiate procedures or through the exemption process we suggested above.

 

12.              Include inventions and/or patents as scholarly accomplishments

 

We see no reason why they are not currently included.  Although the current procedures do not contain specific language regarding these accomplishments, candidates would be able to describe them in the scholarship section of the dossier.

 

13.              Include a variety of persons (e.g., persons with 0% appointment, the DEO) in departmental decision-making who are not currently allowed to participate

 

As we mentioned above, there may be legitimate reasons for a departure from established procedures.  As an example, if a person who holds joint appointments becomes a DEO in one unit, he or she may reduce the other appointment to 0%.  However, not participating in tenure/promotion evaluation while serving as DEO in the other department seems to unnecessarily disenfranchise that faculty member from legitimate participation.

 

14.              If a candidate’s scholarship is produced as part of a collaborative group, have the head of that group write a letter regarding the candidate’s contributions

 

It makes sense to us that the department should be able to request this letter as part of the current procedures for obtaining external reviewers.

 

15.              Reduce the length and/or complexity of candidate’s self-statements

 

We believe that candidates would have an easier time of producing these statements if they did so on an annual basis, and had the opportunity of reviewing other persons’ statements prior to the tenure/promotion evaluation.

 

 

Collegiate level evaluation

 

1.                  If the college’s collegiate consulting group is composed of representatives from each department, allow a person on the collegiate consulting group who is from the candidate’s department to participate in that group’s deliberations rather than excluding him/her as is indicated by current procedures

 

Some units felt that the person who knew the most about the candidate and his/her body of work were being excluded from an important aspect of review.  Additionally, if the collegiate group has questions for the department and must send them in writing to the department for response, the process is delayed.

 

2.                   Have the collegiate consulting group’s vote be taken by secret ballot

 

The current procedures allow a college to make this decision.

 

 

Miscellaneous aspects of the procedures

 

1.                  All evaluations should be based on, and include a copy of, the written departmental standards (criteria) for tenure and promotion

 

This suggestion would necessitate that all units (departmental) develop written individual criteria for tenure and promotion.  The committee did not believe this process would result in documents that would actually inform evaluations.

 

2.                  Provide the candidate with the curriculum vita of all candidates tenured and/or promoted (as appropriate to the candidate) within the last five years

 

We did not believe that a faculty member’s right to confidentiality in what is essentially his/her personnel file overrides the candidate’s interest in reviewing credentials of those successfully evaluated.

 

3.                  Clarify that the candidate has the right to withdraw his or her dossier in the event of a negative evaluation when the tenure/promotion decision is not mandated in that particular year

 

We believe candidates have this right and that they currently exercise this right; however, the right could be clarified in the procedures.

 

General comments

 

1.                  Are the procedures working as they are intended to work, or have there been major unintended consequences that defeat their purposes?

 

It is a bit difficult for us to answer this question, as we have met primarily with administrators (e.g., deans, DEOs) and less so with nonadministrative faculty.  In particular, we did not meet with faculty who have recently been tenured/promoted or with faculty about to be so evaluated, although we did hear by email from some individual faculty members.  Our recommendations will be considered by Faculty Senate and other groups, and thus more faculty members can be consulted than we were able to do in a short timeline.  But we do wish to note that we cannot come to a definitive conclusion based on whom we interviewed and heard from.

 

That said, the current procedures appear to be working more effectively than the previous procedures.  The number of grievances due to improper procedure has been dramatically reduced, colleges have been able to implement the procedures, and colleges report the procedures are working well.  We heard from many units that instituting the current procedures had required considerable changes in their previous procedures for tenure and promotion review.   Indeed, some of these units were now comfortable with the current procedures when they formerly had been quite concerned about their implementation.  Thus, we were asked to hold a “high bar” for recommending changes.  We reasoned that unless aspects of the current procedures are plainly wrong or not working, changes should not be recommended.

 

The major unintended consequence is the “burden” imposed on certain parties in the process, notably the DEO.  We would agree that the DEO has the primary responsibility to work with the candidate and the department faculty to ensure procedures are followed fully and correctly.  However, there are no recommendations we can make to reduce the DEO “burden” in this regard.

 

2.                  Are the procedures efficient, or have they placed unnecessary administrative burdens on faculty, department chairs, the Associate Provost for Faculty, and/or the Provost?

 

While the procedures cannot be characterized as efficient, our belief is that part of their “inefficiency” is a widespread lack of understanding of the steps in the process.  A lot of time is wasted in people asking other people for answers to questions that should be clear in the procedures themselves.  We certainly believe that additional information, perhaps in the form of a Q and A or FAQ’s on a website, would help all involved in the process.

 

3.                  Are the procedures working substantively to protect high professional standards, academic freedom, tenure, shared governance and due process?

 

We believe they are although we heard comments to the contrary.

 

4.                  Do the procedures have the confidence of the faculty?

 

We did not meet with a large enough sample of faculty to accurately conclude that the procedures have the confidence of faculty.  We did hear many observations that the procedures appear to have made what is a difficult process for the faculty member involved, for his or her colleagues, and for administrators more open and fair.  There is also another view that the openness has reduced candidness and, perhaps, standards.  There is some perception that the degree of transparency in the present procedures has increased pressure on departments and colleges to let the Provost make “the tough decision” if a candidate’s record just fails to meet standards.

 

5.                  Do the procedures contribute to diversity on campus?

 

We do not believe the procedures inhibit diversity.  A certain amount of flexibility allowed to the colleges might increase diversity among faculty.

 

 

Committee Members:

 

Elizabeth Altmaier

Susan Johnson

Gregg Oden

Leighton Pierce

Sara Rynes-Weller

Glenn Storey