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Different Paths to Full Professor

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

Message Number: 
1007

Alutto said that the key missing element to giving teaching and service a fair shot at equal consideration in promotions to full professor is measurement of impact, which is easier for research. He said that if good criteria could be developed, not only would teaching-related activities be rewarded, but so would research that has practical use.

 

Folks:

 

The posting below by Scott Jaschik looks at some ideas coming out of

Ohio State University on offering more than one criteria for faculty

promotion, particularly to the full professor level. It is from the

March 5, 2010 issue of INSIDE HIGHER ED, an excellent - and free -

online source for news, opinion and jobs for all of higher education.

You can subscribe by going to: http://insidehighered.com/.  Also for a

free daily update from Inside Higher  Ed, e-mail

[scott.jaschik@insidehighered.com]. Copyright © 2010 Inside Higher Ed

Reprinted with permission.

 

Regards,

 

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

UP NEXT:  Displaying a Personal interest in Students and Their Learning"

 

 

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Different Paths to Full Professor

 

Last month, E. Gordon Gee mentioned to the Associated Press that he

thought it was time to reconsider the way tenure is awarded. The wire

story got a lot of attention, especially given that Gee, president of

Ohio State University, wasn't suggesting abandoning tenure at all, but

rethinking the criteria on which it is awarded.

 

Ohio State officials were quick to caution at the time that Gee wasn't

making specific proposals, but was trying to get people thinking about

an important topic. In fact, though, Ohio State is embarking on

discussions on how to change the way professors are evaluated for

promotion to full professor. University officials argue that, as in

tenure reviews, research appears to be the dominant factor at that

stage, despite official policies to weigh teaching and service as

well.

 

Not only does Ohio State want to end the all-out dominance of research

considerations in reviews for full professor, but the university wants

to explore options where some academics might earn promotions based

largely on research (and have their subsequent careers reshaped with

that focus) while others might earn promotions based largely on

teaching (and similarly have career expectations adjusted). Both could

earn the title of full professor.

 

Further, the university wants to pay attention to questions of impact

-- for both teaching and research. The concept in play would end the

myth that candidates for full professor (and maybe, someday,

candidates for tenure) should be great in everything. Why? Because

most professors aren't great at everything.

 

Using a religious analogy in an interview, Gee said that there should

be "multiple ways to salvation." Associate professors should be able

to find "their real callings" and to focus on them, not fearing that

following those passions will doom their chances of promotion for

deviating from an equal balance between research, teaching and

service. Ohio State's provost, Joseph A. Alutto, has started working

with faculty members on redefining promotion guidelines, and faculty

leaders are backing the effort. And while many college leaders talk

about a desire to reward faculty members on factors beyond traditional

measures of research excellence, actually shifting promotion criteria

is rare at research universities.

 

"It could be revolutionary if we do this, and then others do it. We

could really escape from some of the limitations of the system" in

place now, said Sebastian D.G. Knowles, a professor of English and

associate dean for faculty and research in the arts and humanities.

 

In a recent speech to the University Senate, Alutto outlined a path to

a different approach for the promotion to full professor. He started

by noting the traditional teaching/research/service demands for

tenure, and stressed that he favored continuation of tenure. "Without

the assurances provided by tenure, all of us in the academy would be

constantly in danger of speaking only the current orthodoxy, for

seeing the world in limited ways," he said.

 

When it comes time to promote to full professor, he said that it seems

that Ohio State just wants "more of the same" in more high quality

research, more great teaching and more service. But if that's the

official policy, the de facto situation, he said, is that the focus is

on research. Once research eminence is verified, teaching and service

must be found only to be "adequate."

 

"This approach is insidiously harmful," Alutto said. "First, it

generates cynicism among productive faculty, as they realize the

'game' being played. Second, it frustrates productive faculty who

contribute to their disciplines and the university in unique and

powerful ways other than -- or in addition to -- traditional research.

Third, it flies in the face of everything we know about the need for a

balanced portfolio of skills to achieve institutional success."

 

Gee said that his view is that the university needs outstanding work

in research, teaching and service, and that divisions or areas of

study within the university need outstanding work in those areas, but

that the current system presumes that every individual can provide all

of them in equal measure.

 

Alutto said that the key missing element to giving teaching and

service a fair shot at equal consideration in promotions to full

professor is measurement of impact, which is easier for research. He

said that if good criteria could be developed, not only would

teaching-related activities be rewarded, but so would research that

has practical use.

 

"Measuring impact is always difficult, particularly when it comes to

teaching and service," he said. "But it can be done if we focus on the

significance of these activities as it extends beyond our own

institution -- just as we expect such broad effects with traditional

scholarship. Thus, indicators of impact on other institutions,

recognition by professional associations, broad adoption of teaching

materials (textbooks, software, etc.) by other institutions, evidence

of effects on policy formulation and so on -- all these are

appropriate independent indicators of effectiveness."

 

Gee stressed that once such measures are established, it will be clear

that promoting a faculty member to full professor based primarily on

teaching would not mean any lessening of the rigor required for

advancement; that it was simply a matter of having a way to apply that

rigor to teaching and not research alone.

 

Alutto said that this broader focus would make it easier for

departments to agree with various tenured faculty members on stages in

their careers, such that someone might focus more on creating a new

curricular offering for a period of a few years, and someone else

might be at a critical juncture of research and want to focus on the

lab. Faculty jobs could be restructured accordingly, but not

universally, so that different professors would have more widely

varying divisions of their duties (in the way Ohio State already has

such options in its medical school and some other programs).

 

"This gives an opportunity for individuals to say: What's the passion

I have and what can I do at this point in my career?" Alutto said.

 

Alutto said that some of the same principles might also be used to

reform tenure criteria. But one caution he had was that -- because

tenure is a "30 or 40 year commitment" by the university -- there may

be a need to be sure of more of a mix of talents in the candidate,

since the university's needs may be hard to predict so far into the

future.

 

Timothy Gerber, a professor of music education at Ohio State, and

chair of the Faculty Council, said that he is generally hearing

enthusiasm about considering alternate paths to full professor status.

Comments by Gee "certainly got everyone's attention and people are

saying that it's time we take a look at this."

 

Gerber said he agrees that contributions to a discipline may extend

beyond traditional publications. For example, he is the co-author of a

music textbook used in high school. "I think we have had an impact,"

he said. "Thousands of teachers are teaching differently, and hundreds

of thousands of students are having contact with content they would

not have had," he said.

 

In many ways, Gerber said, the idea of "counting" such contributions

in faculty evaluations is an embrace of Ernest Boyer's ideas about

"the scholarship of teaching," ideas that have had much more influence

outside research universities than within them.

 

Knowles said that the only "pitfall" he saw was concern that teaching

might be too easy for someone to use to justify promotion. "There is

always some group of students for whom you are a magical teacher," he

said. But if university leaders follow through on their goal of

creating mechanisms for measuring the impact of teaching

contributions, Knowles said he was "fully supportive."

 

"I think the worst thing we can do right now is stay where we are," he

said. "We need to shake up the way we promote associate professors."