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Chair, Personnel Committee #2

Teresa Thomas: Case #2

Characterization of Institution

Private Liberal-Arts College [quite small!]

Characterization of Department

B.A. in English Literature

How would this case turn out in your department?  At your university/college?

To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever presented an on-line publication as a credit for tenure or promotion in my department. I believe that I have several colleagues who are techno-phobes, making minimal use of any electronic technology [we can’t assume that email memos reach everyone!], and there’s another contingent like me, who can manage email and a few other processes but do not routinely create course web pages or do a lot of work with students on line. There is a third group, probably 30-40% of the department, however, who are into instructional technology in a big way altho not [yet?] publishing on line. Most of those in this third group are untenured, however.

Nevertheless, I think Thomas would get tenure in our department. Some of my colleagues might be uneasy about the all-on-line publications, but I don’t think they could get away with the kind of response reported of the curmudgeons in your case scenario because the rest of us would not let them. I can’t imagine that we would direct a junior person to “publish properly,” meaning, in print, especially if we had hired him/her precisely for technological knowledge.

I do think we would be concerned about whether the on-line journals were referee’d, whether the presses doing on-line publication were reputable, etc., and since most of us would not feel competent to pass on those matters ourselves, I can imagine that we would solicit outside letters in this case, which we do not normally do. We would be very concerned that the work be professionally judged to be of top quality, regardless of the medium of publication.

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

At my own small, private Liberal Arrts school, department chairs have no formal responsibilities to tenure candidates other than to see to it that Statutory procedures [including observance of deadlines] are followed. If Thomas was going to get in trouble because of publishing only online, here the Department Chair would have no formal obligation to tell her.

Of course, the Chair would have a moral obligation to tell her.  It is considered very bad form to tell a pre-tenure person that everything is fine in his/her biennial evaluations, and then sock him/her with tenure-denying objections in the tenure report. However, though bad form, it is perfectly legal to do so according to our procedures [in fact, that is exactly what happened to me when I came up for tenure, but the suddenly objecting people were in the minority and I got tenure anyway].

Seems to me that the head in your example should have done more to defuse the curmudgeons’ response. Were I to meet with that response here, I would probably go to the academic dean seeking institutional guidelines for this type of publication and let the dean play the heavy in bringing the curmudgeons into line. Our dean is EXTREMELY  eager to get faculty onto the web for instructional technology; to approve on-line publication is a logical extension. The head should have addressed the opposition immediately after it surfaced.

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

We have no Personnel Committee.

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

[At my school (small, private, liberal arts college)], the Dean’s responsibilities to tenure candidates consist in little more than telling them [candidates] what the deadlines are and also telling them if any unsolicited  letters have turned up in their files [these you may see, solicited letters you may not see]. The Dean also deals with requests from people to alter the  tenure clock; department chairs are not empowered to make decisions on that.

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

[I]t sounds like both the head and Thomas, after discovering that this opposition existed, basically forgot about it and hoped it would go away. Thomas evidently did not attempt to obtain any print publications and the head did nothing to educate the curmudgeons.

Since Thomas knew the opposition existed, maybe she should have attempted to educate them once she realized the head was going to do nothing. At the very least, she might suggest to the head that outside letters be solicited when she came up for tenure.

Depending on how bold she is, Thomas might also have tried to build a bridge to a powerful dean herself. The case makes her sound like an invaluable teacher of both undergrads and graduate students, something deans generally can recognize and reward. Then, even if the curmudgeons succeeded in getting a minority negative report out on her at tenure time, she might sail through at the next level. If the curmudgeons managed to carry the day at the department level of course, that would make it more difficult.

What went wrong?  What went right?

See above.

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