About this time last year, my wife and I took a quick weekend trip to the Ohio town where we lived being moving to Georgia. Among the stops that was a visit to one of the Amish families with whom we had become friends. As we drove into their driveway, Bill and Cindy Miller were cleaning off their large garden before the first frost. That was their focus, to glean every last vegetable so that they could preserve it. For them the visit was a welcomed break from their labor. For me, it was a diversion from the complicated world of higher education and its meetings, bylaws, handbooks, and rules upon which we all depend. I found myself craving simplicity.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about that simplicity. We all know that our role as faculty is changing rapidly of late because of online teaching, the drive for affordable course materials, and initiatives in student retention and degree completion. With that changing role come new demands on faculty time and an increasingly complicated environment in higher education. In our college meeting this semester, as our changing roles were being discussed, the suggestion was made that while we may not have control over all of the demands on us, the faculty have control over some areas—such as the promotion and tenure process. We, in fact, are limited by University System requirements in our control over promotion and tenure, but the point is well taken. Greater simplicity in the promotion and tenure process would make our lives much less complicated.
The Faculty Affairs Committee is currently looking at promotion and tenure, and I hope that one of their goals will be the simplification of the process (including changes to allow promotion and tenure materials to be submitted electronically. Instead of placing unnecessary hurdles in one another’s paths, we can show more trust in one another. It is important that we verify the qualifications of our colleagues for promotion and tenure, but do we sometimes prescribe rites of passage to test the endurance of our colleagues? Have we made the process unnecessarily tough because no one should get a break if we didn’t? Do we set daunting rules of evidence and portfolio composition? Even when we try to improve upon the process, it seems that we take a piecemeal approach and create a confusing patchwork with conflicting deadlines and requirements. The process needs wholesale simplification. The same can be said, by the way, for the annual evaluation process.
In the faculty senate, I will support simplification. Just this week, I voted no on asking the Faculty Affairs Committee to clarify the section of the Faculty Handbook that deals with post-tenure review. I did so for two reasons.
First, as Meri Beth Stegall pointed out the clarification was unnecessary. The request for clarity had come to the senate because of perceived conflicts in the language of the handbook which had been passed along to forms used in post-tenure review. The request supposed the word “criteria” included the possible outcomes of the evaluation process and the ways in which they are measured. In fact, “criteria” refers simply to academic achievement, superior teaching, outstanding service, and scholarship and professional development.
Second, and more importantly, I voted no because the request would have focused the attention of the committee on one aspect of the promotion and tenure process, and I became concerned that in its effort to report back to the senate n this one matter, that the examination of the overall process would be sidetracked. The result could be another patch job. I have no objection to the Faculty Affairs Committee looking at post-tenure review, but I believe that it should be part of the whole.
As we move through the year, I will be keenly following the work of the Faculty Affairs Committee, and I hope that you will share ideas for promotion and tenure simplification—not complication.