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“What I am Working on Today” Blog

Faculty and Staff Awards

October 11, 2011

Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology

When faculty and staff members win awards, they are typically overjoyed, as this often signifies a career milestone. However, new administrators often learn that the award process can be intrusive, complicated, and morale-busting if handled inappropriately.

Today I am working on awards.

At our university there are both college and institutional honors. Those chosen for college awards are advanced to the institutional level. If a person wins there, another professor or staff member is chosen for the college award.

We’re beginning the process now, but we won’t know if any of our employees won until April 2012 at the earliest.

In many ways, this seemingly benign exercise—selecting employees for awards—can be as time-consuming as a promotion and tenure application. We will be seeking letters from external and internal supporters. Candidates will write vision statements. I will write detailed nomination letters and assemble award packets for online submission.

That’s when I get to deal with Adobe Acrobat, trying to merge different files from varied software companies. We’ll save that topic for another installment.

Suffice to say that award processes rarely are formalized in the typical journalism department. The director or a committee makes recommendations. Sometimes nominees are asked to do all the legwork on behalf of themselves. In some units, the process is well organized. Those programs tend to garner awards and bring recognition not only to employees but to the unit’s reputation as well.

Here’s how we handle it.

My role as director who reads everyone’s annual review is to make ballots for each of some two dozen awards. Each ballot contains the award criteria. Every employee who qualifies for an award has her or his name listed on the ballot.

The Director’s Advisory Committee—made up of chairs of standing committees, as well as program administrators—receives a packet with all the ballots. They rank order nominees and report their favorites to me.

At that time, and ONLY at that time, do we inform the selected faculty and staff members. (You never want to let others not chosen know that their colleagues failed to recommend them.)

If the selected faculty or staff member agrees to be put forward officially, a program coordinator and I work with the individual to create the best possible award packet to submit to the college. We solicit letters, nomination statements, teaching evaluations and other documentation. We meet the deadline.

Each year we have managed to win significant honors using this process—an even dozen, to be exact, since 2004. When names are announced, the University typically sends me an email about that. Nominees not chosen usually receive an email form letter.

That’s when I step in as director, writing an official complimentary letter for the personnel file, noting that the awards process is competitive but that we appreciate the colleague’s contributions.

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