Administrators can help inspire much-needed reform of the tenure and promotion processes at their institutions if they begin discussions of reducing the workload of both candidates and committees in the following three ways.
1. Institutions should never require candidates to supply information or documentation that can be readily obtained elsewhere. It should go without saying that forcing candidates to gather material that is easily available elsewhere is not the best use of the candidates’ time. But such a requirement is also detrimental to the committee’s work. For instance, committees may feel obliged to review documentation, not because it is particularly useful or informative, but simply because the candidate has gone to the trouble to collect it.
Common examples of information that, at most institutions, candidates should not be asked to gather include aggregated student evaluation scores and term-by-term course loads. Where centralized sources of this information are available, these sources will be far more consistent in the way in which that information is presented; for instance, the office of institutional research is likely to calculate averages or median scores on student evaluations in a consistent manner for all faculty members, whereas individuals may use any number of methods, producing results that are misleading to the committee where they attempt to make comparisons.
2. Candidates should be asked to provide a sampling of material that reflects each candidate’s best contributions. When applicants for promotion or tenure submit large quantities of material, there tends to be very little distinction in their documentation between the extremely important and the relatively insignificant. In an attempt to provide the committee with everything that its members could possibly want, candidates run the risk of having their truly important material become lost in the sheer welter of their documentation.
This problem can best be avoided if documentation guidelines are revised so that candidates provide a selection of their materials along with a justification of why those materials are important. For instance, candidates could be asked to list all the products of their scholarship (books, articles, presentations, performances, and the like), but also to submit documentary evidence of their three most important scholarly contributions, along with a statement about why those items are significant.
Rather than submitting syllabi for all of their courses, candidates could be asked to provide the three best syllabi they have written, accompanied by a paragraph that explains why these particular examples are of high quality. Focusing requests in this way encourages candidates, not merely to “dump” everything that they have collected onto a review committee, but rather to reflect on what they believe to be important, why it is important, and what constitutes high achievement in their disciplines.
3. Candidates should be asked to supply fewer documents, but they should also be asked to annotate those documents. Another problem with reviewing multiple binders filled with unedited documents is that, although they contain a great deal of data, they do not always provide a great deal of information. For instance, unless a member of a review committee happens to be very familiar with the discipline in question, he or she is unlikely to know which journals in a field are really important, which conferences do not accept every proposal submitted, and which courses tend to evoke lower scores on evaluations primarily because students resent having to take them. For this reason, an annotated résumé—one that includes acceptance rates for each journal in which the faculty member has published, essential information about the conferences where the candidate has presented, and background about how the candidate’s courses fit into the overall curriculum of the discipline—can end up revealing far more to the committee than huge stacks of non-annotated documents.
In a similar way, an annotated syllabus, describing how and why the instructor has improved the course over time, can tell the committee a great deal about the individual’s quality of instruction and can be much more helpful all those notes from students reading “Good professor! I really liked this class.”
In other words, documentation for promotion and tenure applications can be significantly improved if those who are responsible for setting policies would begin asking, “What insight do we hope to gain from the supporting material provided by the applicant that we simply cannot obtain elsewhere?”
Seldin, P., & Miller, J.E. (2008). The Academic Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Documenting Teaching, Research, And Service. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Buller is dean of the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College at Florida Atlantic University.
Excerpted from Improving Documentation for Promotion and Tenure, Distance Education Report, Nov. 2007. To read this article in its entirety, download a copy of the FREE REPORT, Faculty Promotion and Tenure: Eight Ways to Improve the Tenure Review Process at Your Institution.