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Dean #2

Jared Johns: Case #1

Characterization of Institution

Research II-Intensive University

Characterization of Department

Ph.D. in English
M.A. in English
M.S. in Writing
B.A. in English
B.A. in English Education

How would Jered Johns’s case turn out in your department?  At your university/college?

In our department, it’s likely that Johns probably would not receive a favorable recommendation for reappointment. Both the scholarship and teaching would be the problems. The problem with the scholarship focuses primarily on peer review. The problem with teaching seems to focus on his difficulty in working technology into his courses in a way that clearly enhances learning or at least the students’ sense that they are learning.

At our university, conference proceedings and reviews are considered third-tier publications, so they would not help the case much. They could count as second- or first-tier publications if a case could be made that they are the equivalent in quality to publications that would fit within one of these categories, but I don’t see details in the case that would incline me to think that such a case would be justified. We would count the essay published in Computers and Composition before the beginning of Jared’s appointment as a first-tier publication. I mention this because I know that some departments will only consider work completed after the beginning of the appointment. However, we wouldn’t count the essay published in the edited collection because there is no indication of peer review. The on-line book also lacks a description of the peer-review process used, so I assume it was not peer-reviewed. In all, there is too little in the way of genuine peer-reviewed scholarship to justify an expectation that tenure and promotion would be granted in the near future.

It could be argued that the favorable responses of the outside reviewers to the material they were given constitutes a form of peer review and this may be why the members of the personnel committee voted in favor of reappointment. At our university, however, the outside reviewers offer a chance for a summative analysis of an individual’s performance during his or her probationary period, but they don’t serve as a substitute for the reviewers involved in determining whether or not a particular article or book produced during this period should be published.

I should stress that the central issue as far as scholarship is concerned isn’t a matter of the form that the publication takes (digital vs. paper). Whatever form a publication takes, it would need to undergo peer review. The personnel committee’s response is somewhat confusing on this point since, in advising the Chair to give Johns a “stern warning to publish only in refereed print journals until he finished his probationary period,” they assert a principle that wasn’t prominent in their analysis of Jared’s record. The discussion of their analysis suggests that they focused on peer review and not on whether a publication took digital or paper form, but insisting on publications in refereed print journals, they also seem to be making an issue of the form a publication takes as well as whether or not it was peer reviewed.

In the area of teaching, a number of people remark on Jared’s innovative use of technology in his courses. While the innovations themselves would be a positive feature in the evaluation of his teaching, they would not be considered ends in themselves. A favorable review of his teaching would depend on his demonstrating that the innovations contribute to effective learning in his courses. That Johns’s teaching doesn’t seem to have gotten better after a problematic start and has remained at a poorer than average level would contribute to a negative review. At the same time, he seems to have done better in his graduate courses, which would work to his advantage, but it is not clear why he enjoys increased success at the graduate level. Certainly, the number of graduate students who seek him out to work with them on theses and dissertations is a positive statement about his work in the classroom.

The most troubling part of the teaching record is that he seems to have had a chance to work through teaching difficulties over a succession of semesters, but it doesn’t seem to have improved, possibly because he didn’t take early warnings seriously enough. The details of the case don’t make it clear, but I would like to know what happened after Jared’s first conversation with his Chair about how to improve his teaching. Did Johns invite the Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence to visit his classes? If he did, what came of this in his effort to make his teaching better? If he didn’t consult with the Director, why not? This dialogue should have been an important part of Jared’s effort to improve his teaching, but nothing seems to have come of the Chair’s suggestion that Johns seek assistance.

At our university, the department’s negative decision would be supported at the college and university levels.

What are the Department Chair’s responsibilities toward Johns?  Which did she/he fulfill?  Fail?

The Department Chair has three basic responsibilities toward Johns: 1) to make sure Johns understands from the outset the requirements for tenure and promotion, 2) to advise Johns during his probationary period on his performance relative to these standards, and 3) to give Johns assignments that balance departments needs and Jared’s needs. The last of these includes creating a set of assignments that make it possible for Jared to meet the standards set forth for tenure and promotion. The Chair seems to have been proactive in advising Jared early in his probationary period to seek help with his teaching, and to this extent he met the second responsibility at least in part. However, I see no other evidence of efforts on the Chair’s part to address the other two responsibilities and the second responsibility as it bears on scholarship, which proved to be a major part of Johns’ difficulty.

With regard to the third responsibility, the Chair seems to have allowed Johns to assume a responsibility that worked against his ability to do the things necessary to establish a successful probationary record. I refer to the administration of the Department computer facility. Responsibilities of this kind are notorious for the excessive demands they place on those in charge of running them, even when a course release is provided. The Chair should have resisted the assignment or, if it was absolutely necessary that Jared accept it, he should have helped Johns articulate what exactly the administration of the facility could entail without its becoming the albatross that it seems to have become for Jared. The Chair seems to have failed with regard to the last of these in part because he allowed Johns to assume a set of responsibilities that exceeded what Jared could handle.

I do note that the Director of Graduate Studies advised Johns to reduce his level of involvement on graduate thesis and dissertation committees. So, there was an effort on the part of the Department to alert Jared to an imbalance evident in his work (i.e., disproportionate amounts of time spent on the computer facility and on graduate committees). If this was also accompanied by indications that the time saved by cutting back on these responsibilities should be re-directed to getting peer-reviewed articles in print (electronic or paper), then the Department, through the Graduate Director, made a reasonable effort to meet the second responsibility with regard to scholarship. At the same time, the Graduate Director should not have been the only or even the primary one sending this message. It should have been sent regularly by the Chair and the personnel committee as well.

What are the Personnel Committee’s responsibilities toward Johns?  Which did they fulfill?  Fail?

At our university, the personnel committee, chaired by the Department Chair, reviews a faculty member’s work annually and provides written feedback on the individual’s work for the preceding year. For faculty who are on a probationary contract, the written feedback specifically discusses the relationship between the year’s work and progress toward tenure and promotion. I assume that most departments provide annual evaluations, though I don’t see any mention of anything like this in Johns’ case. The primary responsibility of a personnel committee should be to provide this feedback in some form, and this committee does not seem to have done this. Their first engagement with the details of Johns’ record seems to come in this fourth-year review, which may be too late to do Johns much good.

In reaching a favorable decision in the fourth-year review, the committee seems to want to support Jared as far as his record will allow. In this, I see the committee recognizing its developmental responsibility. At the same time, this is happening so late in the process that this recognition will have little or no effect on Jared’s tenure and promotion decision in two years.

The committee’s efforts to evaluate Johns teaching seem haphazard at best. The two committee members who disapprove of the lack of conventional argument in the work of Johns’ students don’t seem to want to explore what his assignments are achieving. In concentrating on what isn’t there, they don’t look at what is or at the relationship between what is there and what the courses in question should be trying to do. The haphazard approach to evaluating his teaching is even more evident in the fact that, when two committee members had difficulty loading an assignment on their machines because of a missing Java plug-in, they don’t seem to have made any effort to get access to a machine that had the necessary plug-in.

What are the responsibilities of the Dean?  Which did she/he fulfill?  Fail?

There isn’t much mention of the Dean in the entire case, which could signal the form that his or her failure takes. That is, it’s not clear that he or she is exercising any oversight to ensure that probationary faculty in his or her College are getting the guidance needed for them to succeed. At many campuses, the Department Chair and the Dean discuss the progress of probationary faculty member on an annual or biannual basis, but that does not seem to have been the case here. If the case had been developed further and there was some reaction from the Dean or the College personnel committee to the recommendation coming from the department personnel committee, the extent to which the Dean and the College met their responsibilities might be more evident.

What are Johns’ responsibilities?  Which did she/he fulfill?  Fail?

Johns’ first and foremost responsibility is to apprise himself of the Department’s and College’s standards for promotion and tenure and to ensure that the work he is doing addresses these standards. He seems to have failed in this fundamental task. Mostly, he seems to focus on those things that interest him without considering their relationship to his progress toward tenure and promotion. This is evident in the description of his approach to getting his dissertation published. Although he can’t find a publisher to give him a contract, he is “loath to let the effort go.” When he does find an online publishing concern that will publish the manuscript, he pursues the opportunity without considering very carefully how the publication would be factored into his tenure and promotion review.

The same pattern seems evident in his work on the Department lab. This seems to be something he enjoys doing, but he also finds it takes more time than he anticipated in that he spends his weekends in the lab with his thirty technical consultants “troubleshooting machines, installing new software, and training the new consultants.” While Johns is to blame for allowing himself to be so absorbed by this work, the Department shares the blame by having given him an assignment that everyone should have known would place huge demands on his time, demands that would interfere with his ability to do the scholarship necessary for a favorable tenure and promotion decision.

I suspect that Jared enjoys working on graduate student committees so that here, too, he allows himself to be swallowed up by the task (in four years, he has served on sixteen Master’s level committees and eight Ph.D. committees). That he has invested himself too much in this work is evident by the fact that the Director of Graduate Studies has had to talk with him to tell him to cut down on committee work.

In all of this, Johns is doing valuable work, but he overdoes it and allows himself to become invested disproportionately in work that will not figure correspondingly into his tenure and promotion review.

What went wrong?  What went right?

I suspect that the fundamental problem here is a lack of communication between Johns and the Department, which would include a failure to make the standards for promotion clear from the beginning and a failure to attend to these standards in the work completed over the four years in which Johns has been in this position. The publication standard is clear when the personnel committee is reviewing Johns’ record (six peer-reviewed articles in first- or second-tier journals). However, it’s not clear that Jared understands this standard from the outset, and there’s no evidence that the Department is communicating the standard to him during his probationary period. Depending on how one counts the articles in conference proceedings, Johns could be very far from this standard or closer but still far enough away to precipitate a stern warning about what he should be publishing in the remaining years of his probationary period.

The Department doesn’t seem to have provided the mentoring that would have increased the chances that Johns would have tailored his work during his probationary period to the Department’s expectations. The only communication that seems to occur is the occasional statement from the Chair or the Director of Graduate studies rather than a sustained mentoring that would have guided Jared away from the excessive investments in some activities that interfered with, because of their excessive demands on his time and energy,  rather than advanced his progress toward tenure and promotion.

For Johns’ part, he worked at things that were of obvious value to the Department (his service is judged to be good during his fourth-year review), but he should have familiarized himself with the standards for promotion and tenure and examined all of his work through the lens of these standards. That means that, rather than persisting with a book-length manuscript that was obviously meeting with some resistance, for example, he should have been directing his energies toward publications that would have more readily enhanced his scholarly record. It also means that he should have worked at his teaching to ensure that he used technology to enhance his pedagogy rather than persisting with approaches that seemed to create problems from the beginning. There is no evidence that he followed up on the Chair’s suggestions to meet with the Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence nor is there evidence that he worked at his teaching to ensure that problems in one semester were addressed in a subsequent semester. He served as a listserv moderator on technology and pedagogy hoping that doing so would benefit his teaching; however, it’s not clear what he did with the knowledge he gathered to make his teaching better. He doesn’t seem to have learned from the tenure and promotion guidelines that his teaching would have to improve from where it began at the outset of his probationary period.

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