Provost Mark McNamee, Vice Provost Jack Finney, Department Head Brenda Winkel, and Deans Alan Grant and Dick Benson discussed policies and procedures for promotion and tenure reviews.
Provost Mark McNamee’s comments
The provost noted that he benefits a lot from the discussion in university P&T committee meetings. He is a non-voting member of the committee, since he has an independent opportunity for input. Now he has been through 12 cycles of P&T here at Virginia Tech, and is seeing a steady increase in expectations of performance. The university is hiring excellent people and in an increasingly competitive environment, and faculty members are responding. He has been trying to make expectations more transparent across the university. The consistency of information provided to the university committee is getting better each year. There are fewer questions and missing data each year, and the quality of the files keeps getting better.
Overall, departments are doing a good job of explaining when there are differences, focusing on accomplishments, explaining accomplishments. The university is also working on making process for promotion to professor more transparent. Some changes were made a few years ago, including encouraging departments to work with individuals who may have been associate professors for some time and want to work towards promotion. The focus is on recent years of activity and results rather than the number of years in rank, not penalizing individuals for gaps in the record. The goal is to encourage people to reinvest in their careers.
Vice Provost Jack Finney’s comments
The provost focused on how well things are going, Dr. Finney will focus on areas for improvement. None of these issues compromised a candidate, but some details could be improved.
- The cover sheet needs to be complete, including years of service and votes at each level, so the committee does not have to go digging through the dossier for that information.
- In general, people do a good job of choosing external reviewers. The university committee is looking for reviewers at peer universities who have national or international reputations and are qualified to comment on the candidate's work. Some dossiers still come in with reviewers who do not look like a good match for Virginia Tech. The reviewers should be from institutions comparable to Virginia Tech.
- It is unrealistic to expect all external reviews to be positive. The committee should address the negative comments with an explanation, not simply dismiss the issues that are raised by external reviewers.
- There was a long discussion this year about books - when is a book considered to be "in press"? In some cases the external reviewer did not have sufficient information about a work to comment. A book needs to be complete in order to be "in press", not just under contract.
- Evidence for a national or international reputation must be built on a case by case basis. It may be discipline specific. The department head and committee letters should address the impact of the faculty member's work placing it in context of the field. (The provost notes that it could be national or international, not necessary to be both.)
Brenda Winkel, Biological Sciences - department head perspective
Interdisciplinarity is the norm in her department rather than the exception, so there needs to be clarification in the dossier of exactly what was the contribution of the individual under review. They are asking faculty to begin to write their personal statements as part of the interim reviews at 2 and 4 years, to describe their trajectory and highlight their important contributions. This exercise brings out strengths and weaknesses early in the process. In her department each assistant professor rotates through as an observer on the personnel committee so that they understand the process and what is valued. The department rep on the college P&T committee also participates in personnel discussions to make sure they are aligned with the college. Early career faculty members need to understand how important it is to be known in their field, and the mentoring grants for the new assistant professors are helpful in that regard. They also have mentoring lunches for pre-tenure faculty in the department.
Alan Grant, CALS - dean perspective
Dean Grant has been impressed with the ability of the university committee to evaluate contributions across the disciplines. In the first meeting of the university committee, the deans have an opportunity to describe unique aspects of their college and how that impacts their scholarly contributions. In his college, some faculty members have extension or split extension/research appointments. They expect a faculty member's research to complement the extension mission.
Many colleges have faculty located outside of Blacksburg, which may impact their ability to work with graduate students, for instance. So the dean can make the university committee aware of those considerations. In assessing scholarship, it is important to show that the work has clear goals, appropriate methodologies, appropriately documented, is innovative, fills gaps in knowledge, can be replicated, and has been reviewed and judged meritorious by peers - these factors are consistent across disciplines. The combination of the candidate's statements, evaluator letters, and letters from committees & dean should be able to make the case across disciplines.
Dick Benson, COE - dean perspective
In Dean Benson’s view, there is no such thing as early promotion - promotion is based on what you have done recently, what work you are currently doing. The least important thing in the dossier is the date of the last promotion. If someone is doing the work appropriate for a certain rank, they should be at that rank regardless of length of service. Virginia Tech should not be the last university willing to promote someone. In the case of non-mandatory award of tenure, you are looking ahead rather than back. It is a big decision, committing to lifetime employment, and departments need time to consider the long term impact.