The Tenure Package

Today I submitted my tenure package: a three binder set of documents about my teaching, scholarship, and service over the past seven years at Seton Hill University. Though the process is difficult, it feels liberating to have it out of my hands…and the process of assembling the portfolios and reflecting on my work was much more rewarding than I thought it would be.

A lot of advice about getting ready for tenure is aimed at keeping good records and developing your career early in the game, so that you’ll “survive the tenure track” and have excellent material ready for the tenure package when the time comes around to submit it. But little help is available out there on preparing the package itself. Obviously, one should turn to colleagues and administrators on campus for assistance and mentoring every step of the way. But I did find a very good article to recommend. In “Making Your Case: Strategies for an Effective Tenure Package,” Kirk Martini compares a professor’s career to “building a city” and the tenure package as a series of “maps and guidebooks” that escort the evaluator through it. That’s a great analogy. Organization is everything. I spent a lot of time not only composing a narrative overview of my work, but also added brief narrative cover pages to function as introductions to each section of the portfolio (for example, I included a brief bio for the section where the letter from my “external reviewer” will go; for the “course materials” section (aka teaching portfolio), I described why I chose the classes I chose to represent). These mini-intros also cross-reference different parts of the portfolio if I felt it prudent, so that the committee will be invited to draw connections. I also used construction paper with labels to subdivide different sections to make the organization of material clearer (e.g., for the “scholarship” binder, I tab-divided the material by genre (articles, presentations, fiction, poetry, and new media) and then subdivided those with black separator pages (e.g., “articles” is subdivided with pages labeled “instructional essays” and “book reviews”).

There’s a lot of curiosity about how weblogs relate to tenure; since blogs aren’t “peer reviewed,” many scholars are skittish about incorporating blogs into their package. At the same time, faculty who blog claim that it’s a form of “open effort academics” where the formative process of scholarship is shared among a discourse community. I tend to agree with the latter, obviously (otherwise Pedablogue wouldn’t exist!). And since I am loosely attached to our New Media Journalism program at Seton Hill, it’s part of my work and I didn’t bat an eye about including websites in my binder. I included a section of “new media” under scholarship, and included screen captures of Pedablogue and other websites I’ve designed; otherwise, a few selected entries from Pedablogue went under a subdivision called “Scholarship of Teaching,” alongside some articles I’ve published about pedagogy.

I think the best part of the process was sorting through my old teaching files and realizing how much some of my routine courses (like composition and literary criticism) have evolved over the years. It’s hard to communicate that evolution in the tenure package, but I’ve come to realize that a lot of these “hoops” that academics are asked to jump through are really opportunities for reflection and self-discovery that prompt renewal. As far as the outcome of what lies on the other side of the proverbial hoop, wish me luck — decisions won’t be final until the Winter.

Professors of Practice

I read a news article at Inside Higher Ed today, called “Holding Out for Tenure,” which talks about how some schools are dealing with instructors who are employed full-time or nearly so, but not given the opportunity for tenure. Roughly 34% of all full-time faculty are not tenured or tenure-track. There’s a new trend afoot in terming the more highly valued professionals off the tenure track “Professors of Practice” — a model which gives long-term, talented teachers more benefits than they’d get for part-time adjunct pay, but without the other benefits of tenure. The AAUP has issued a statement against this model, arguing that such a practice “endangers the academic freedom” of these teachers, erodes their power in faculty governance, and “demeans instruction.” It also calls tenure itself into question, since the differences between a tenured prof and a “prof of practice” are hazy.

I know of a number of adjunct teachers who are good instructors and “regulars” in the faculty pool and while they do get raises based on their education and seniority, I like the idea of giving them something a little better that recognizes their value. Adjuncts and part-timers don’t get enough credit for what they contribute to a college and anything that can help them achieve more status (or more equity, in comparison to their colleagues) is meaningful and appropriate. But I have to say I agree with the AAUP’s response: this model probably isn’t the best way to do it.

“Professors of Practice” is a fancy way of saying “teacher whose research isn’t important to us.” This does demean teaching, because it turns a blind eye to the scholarship of teaching. Moreover, “Professors of Practice” is really just another way of saying “scholar-practitioner” and I see no reason why “scholar-practitioners” can’t be afforded tenure for all the work they do. In fact, I’d call myself a scholar-practitioner, since I not only teach creative writing, I write and publish my work professionally in the fiction/poetry marketplace. All professors should be professors of practice to some degree, anyway. They don’t just profess; they publish and present and more. Would research scholars be offended if they were given the rank of “Researcher of Practice” or “Scholar of Practice” instead of, “Tenured Professor”?

I’m actually up for tenure this semester, and reading articles like this one make me appreciate my opportunity and status all the more.

Reforming Academic Rank

In “Simplifying the Academic Hierarchy,” John Jeffries Martin argues that the “associate professor” title should be abolished. Building on Max Weber’s Marxist thinking about the bureaucracy in the American university system, Martin proposes that the best way to reform the rank system of the professoriate is to hold a probationary “assistant professor” rank for a short period of time before an institution promotes and tenures faculty into “full professor” rank. The publish or perish “bean counting” mindset of the rank system, he asserts, alienates teachers from their relationship to their own scholarship, burns them out and distracts them from thriving as educators, because there are so many “hoops” to jump through on the way toward full professor. The emphasis on “specialization” impedes the response to one’s “calling” because the focus on proving one’s self to administrators disallows the freedom to muse reflectively and be inspired by chance, among other things. He writes: “Simply by removing the second ‘hoop’ — that is, the goal of promotion to full professor — many universities and colleges would become more capacious workplaces, accommodating the diverse strengths, talents, and goals of their faculties with greater ease.”

Such reform won’t likely happen in my lifetime, if ever, but it’s an interesting notion to think of alternatives and it’s liberating to recognize how the system is historically contingent. Since I’m an associate prof going up for tenure next year — and with full professor many years away — I’m glad I read this piece. It reminded me of my own situatedness in the academic hierarchy — and to think about the tenure process and the rungs I’m climbing a little more objectively.

Blogging and Tenure

For my presentations over the past few weeks, I’ve been researching the role of blogging in faculty development. One issue that comes up repeatedly is whether or not a blog should “count” as professional scholarship. Obviously, this weblog is self-consciously focused on the scholarship of teaching; other blogs are teaching tools or forums for teachers to gather. While they aren’t “peer reviewed” like traditional journals, blogs are reviewed by peers (who often post comments or blog about other scholar’s blogs) and the blogosphere has its niche communities that engage in specialized discourses.

I think of blogging as “scholarship-in-process” — that is, in motion, live, and in-progress, whether it leads to publication, presentation, or edification. I’ve accumulated a number of bookmarks on this subject and thought I’d share a shortlist of them for anyone reading this who is interested. There are probably LOTS more…surf (or comment) away!

Teaching Portfolio Tips

This afternoon, I gave a little talk to first year faculty about how to prepare the tenure portfolio and how to perform the annual self-evaluation report that all faculty are asked to do at SHU. In my planning for this, I came across several sources, which I thought I’d note them here in case others are interested in how to compile a good teaching portfolio (or “dossier”) and how to survive the tenure track:

The Right to Fail

“Forging that new ground requires extra protection, an assurance that pushing the envelope will not be punished. ‘The great thinkers are also the ones who come up with lots of ideas, many of which fail,’ says Coles. ‘They have earned the right to fail, to have a multitude of ideas.’— Theresa Desmond, The Tenure Trek, Continuum Magazine, Sp 2003.

Although I hadn’t thought of “academic freedom” in this way — as earning, after all those years in school, “the right to fail” — I liked the clarity with which this article not only explained the tenure track system, but also discussed the rationale behind it. There’s also a great little chart that shows the way that academic titles are put together.

Found via an article on Akma’s Random Thoughts on how teachers self-evaluate…which I discovered via Adjunct Nation‘s blog entry on the subject…which I was reading because of a great article I read about the increased reliance on adjunct faculty (up to 50% nationwide) “Fewer professors spend a full day on campus” by Kimberly Chase)…which, I’m ashamed to say, I found by clicking through a banner ad of all things…while reading an article about getting kids to paint cars creatively in art class, featured in the latest issue of Teacher Magazine