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The Promotion and Tenure Process

December 15, 2014

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


This month I read the analyses of the voting faculty and wrote my evaluations of assistant professors up for promotion this year, sending their dossiers to the dean.

Now this is out of my hands and into hers.

The wait begins.

During the lull as the dossier goes from dean to provost and from president to regents, there is a particular nervousness no matter if the analysis is negative or positive. After all, you will be bidding a colleague goodbye or potentially working with her or him for life. And you will be largely responsible for that.

For better or worse, the promotion and tenure process represents the culmination of six years of productivity by the assistant professor and evaluation of that productivity by the administrator. (Associate professor cases evaluate whether someone enjoys a national reputation.) When the time comes to write the letter or support or denial for assistant professors, the chair, director and/or dean refers to each annual review to chart the trajectory of the candidate.

Each trajectory is a narrative recounting successes and setbacks. Your role as administrator is to support the successes by funding professional development and to remedy any setbacks with action plans and expert advice. That needs to be documented in annual reviews.

At our School, all assistant professors meet monthly at peer-mentoring sessions called “the Greenlee Roundtable.” Assistant professors attend these meetings. Often their faculty mentors are guest speakers, involving the entire School.

Typically I facilitate discussions on promotion and tenure, university guidelines, and other expectations. Then each member shares what she or he has been working on, including papers, manuscripts, and grants. These sessions keep everyone informed about progress and foster a sense of teamwork and sharing—not only narratives but also methodologies, datasets, and more.

Newcomers to the Roundtable learn from peers with longer employment at the Greenlee School. At the start of every fall semester, everyone works on or re-evaluates their position responsibility statements—signed contracts of their responsibilities, including scholarly expectations—to insure that a trajectory is being created. Later we will analyze whether it is being maintained. In other words, assistant professors are reminded monthly that they must remain on track rather than be distracted by teaching, service, or advising. (To be sure, candidates must succeed in those areas, but scholarly productivity usually determines P&T outcomes.)

During this journey, Roundtable participants relate how they felt after their three-year reviews and share successful mid-term dossiers with colleagues in their second year of employment. Those who “graduate” from the Roundtable also share their mandatory dossiers with colleagues who are up for promotion soon.

There is another long-term benefit. Assistant professors who leave the Roundtable after promotion will be deciding cases of colleagues who still participate in the Greenlee Roundtable. They will know their scholarly contributions and impact from past discussions and interactions.

That introduces a new, continual improvement element to the process ensuring a thorough, fair review of everyone’s applications for promotion and tenure.

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