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Dean #1

Teresa Thomas: Case #2

Characterization of Institution

Research II

Characterization of Department

M.A.  granted in English

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

In your description, you make the point that this department “…had so far failed to distinguish itself in electronic media. In hiring her, the head fnew that the graduate students would be well served…”  I think she also fnew that the department would be well served….and it was.  I’d say this young professor had been “had.”  On the one hand, she was used to build the technological  credibility of the department.  On the other, she was “dinged” for the very thing she was brought in to do.

At the “Research 1” institution I have the most experience discussing, a similar case occurred where tenure was not awarded.  However, the professor was brought in to focus on a particular area (specifically technology).  Yet this professor decided to dauble in a variety of areas, mostly involving literature.  Though her work was well done and published in good journals,there was no focus for her research, nor did she publish in the area expected.  She thus did not get tenure.

The difference is that this person was told FROM THE BEGINNING what was expected.  She was reminded each year of the same.  Yet she chose to publish as she did.  From what you describe in this scenario,your Professor Thomas was told no such thing.  It seems that she was given every reason to believe that she was fulfilling all areas of the professoriate in a splendid way. Then, in her third year, the rules change because some (particularly parochial, cranky) third internal referee decides (probably because he doesn’t know how to use his computer) that she should publish in print?  No fair!  They should have made those expectations clear from the beginning. You can’t change the rules in the third inning.

I believe that a fair decision would be to grant this professor tenure.  As I will elaborate below, the university could have a suit on its hands otherwise.

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

The department head should have made the expectation for print publishing clear at the beginning.  She should also have defended (and protected) this junior-level professor from Professor Grouch (the third reviewer).  She should not have agreed to “have a good talk” with Dr. Thomas.  And she should have been a better mentor throughout.  Tenure should provide no surprises along the way.  On the other hand, she did provide some positive guidance.  Witness Thomas’ tremendous accomplishments along the way. 

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

The Personnel Committee led Thomas to think her work was fine the first couple of years.  Thus, she was encouraged to continue on her path.  It was not until a recalcitrant faculty member pulled the committee up short [that there was trouble].  The personnel Committee had the obligation to give her a clear understanding of the expectations for tenure from the beginning.  It also had the responsibility to defend her work for the faculty member who doubted it.  The committee failed greatly by changing the expectations for tenure in midstream (or later), a grievable action, I believe.  Thomas had a case.

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

Same as above.  A Dean has the responsibility to ensure that all faculty are treated fairly.  Thomas’ yearly reviews should be fair indications of her progress with warnings or cautions guiding her.  If there were “issues” to be concerned with, the Dean or the Dean’s designee (perhaps the Chair)  should have been very clear as to what Thomas needed to do to bring about a successful tenure decision.  This was not done, and, as they say in some circles, “The buck always stops with the Dean.”

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

Thomas fulfilled her responsibilities in each area of expectation described.  Her publications were in keeping with her fields, both  in the technology arena and the rhetorical world.  She brought these disciplines together in interesting ways.  She was a great teacher and provided the department with outstanding service (though we don’t hear here of the traditional ways a faculty member participates in “service”).  She listened to the chair after her third year evaluation.  She probably decided not to follow the advice for her own reasons (which we are not privy to).  Perhaps she knows she can go somewhere else with this outstanding record where she will be better appreciated. Or perhaps she has dug in her heels and decided to continue her research agenda and challenge the impending dissonance.  Who knows?  I wouldn’t blame her if she did.  And Ithink she’d have a case, particularly because I’ll bet external reviewers would praise her work greatly. 

What went wrong?  What went right?

What went right: Spencer tries to figure out the situation, tries to adjust demands on his time (that is, he suggests a committee to help him in his work; publishes in the area of his teaching; completes his grant work).  Unfortunately, every time he tries to make adjustments, the system undermines him (the committee is volunteer rather than appointed; to publish in his teaching area requires development of new courses; to complete the grant he alienates the faculty member who becomes chair).   This case COULD have come out differently if Spencer had more support and attention from his chair and from members of the T&P committee.

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