Conference on College Composition and Communication Logo

Dean #2

Maricela Guzman: Case #3

Characterization of Institution

Research I (for what many call our main campus)

I work at one of four “campus colleges” within  this system.  Some persist in referring to these campus colleges as “branch” campuses.

Characterization of Department

B.A. granted in Professional Writing

We do not have departments at our college; the English faculty are housed  in the Division of Liberal Arts.  The Director of our Writing Center is a half-time appointment, in which capacity he reports to the Director of the Learning Center.  He teaches English/writing courses for the other half of his time, for which he is evaluated by the Head of the Liberal Arts Division.

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

Although there are a number of relevant variables that are not mentioned in the case (notably, how much did she teach and how was her teaching evaluated? how much bearing did her writing center duties have on her evaluation?), I am confident that her accomplishments would have been sufficient for her to be recommended for tenure by her division and by the college on the basis of her scholarship.  I also conclude from the case that appropriately selected external reviewers would have evaluated her work favorably. 

On the strength of these endorsements, I conclude that the University Promotion & Tenure Committee, which is the final level of tenure review prior to the case being sent to the Provost for approval, would also have recommended tenure.  Assuming that our college’s criteria for Promotion and Tenure clearly validated the kind of research and scholarship that Guzman produced and given the support of the division, the college, and external reviewers, the university committee would very likely have recommended tenure as well.  In such a situation, I can’t imagine the Provost overriding these recommendations.

However, I think it bears mentioning that if Guzman had been housed at what many persist in considering our “main campus”  (and not at a branch campus), she might not have gotten tenure.  This is because the departments at that institution tend to have a much narrower definition of what constitutes acceptable scholarship and research; this typically takes the form of identifying a list of “A” journals, where candidates for tenure are expected to publish the majority of their scholarship and research.  Faculty at our college tend to have more flexibility in placing their work in a wider range of refereed publications, so long as tenure-track faculty continue to publish quality scholarship and research.

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

The Department Head’s responsibility is to help Guzman make satisfactory progress toward promotion and tenure, to communicate with her candidly and explicitly about her progress toward that goal, and to give her reliable guidance for accomplishing that goal. 

In charging the Personnel Committee, the Department Head could have been more explicit up front in clarifying the department’s policies concerning acceptable scholarship and/or letting the committee know that Guzman was authorized and expected to produce scholarship in specific areas and venues.  When the Chair of the Committee informed the Head about the “mixed review,” the Head should have visited with the Committee to encourage them to translate their mixed review into explicit guidelines for the future. 

The Head is to be applauded for his continued support of Guzman, but he is not doing her any favors if his support ignores significant opposition within the department.  Given such opposition, the Head should be encouraging to Guzman to pursue research that will align her more closely with the intellectual culture of the department.  Lacking a background in composition, Guzman seems out of synch with even the high tech side of English studies, and if she is to become part of the professional community of an English department, she may be well advised to channel her research in directions that are more consistent with the prevailing paradigm of that discipline.

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

From what I can tell, the Chair of the Personnel Committee fulfilled his/her responsibilities, which were to oversee the review of Guzman’s dossier and to communicate the results of that evaluation to the candidate.  Where the Chair seems to have failed is in allowing the committee to convey this mixed message to the candidate.  If the promotion & tenure process is to work, the committee must provide feedback and direction to the candidate that will help her focus her efforts for the remainder of the process.  The Chair could have insisted that the committee translate its ambivalence into unambiguous recommendations.  For example, does the committee’s ambivalence signify that the candidate should or should not pursue her scientific scholarship?  The mixed message fails to give Guzman the direction she needs, leaving her open to interpret the recommendation either way.

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

Based on my assumption that the Dean represents the “administrators of the branch campus” referenced at the beginning of the case, I would say the Dean caused the problem by hiring someone for a position for which they were seemingly not qualified.  The Dean apparently does not understand that the position of Director of the Writing Center is not a “technology” position.  By hiring a technology person–and not a composition person–for this job, the Dean increases the likelihood that this employee will not produce scholarship in the composition field. 

The Dean or “administrators” should certainly have consulted with the Department Head about the appropriateness of this person’s qualifications for the job; hiring a Writing Center director because she might help develop a new program in technology and culture smacks of pretzel logic.  However, if they are going to proceed with the hiring of someone who does not have the most appropriate background, then there should have been an understanding in writing, at the outset, of the kinds of expectations there would be for the person holding this position.  Guzman might have requested such clarification in writing herself, but it would have helped if the Dean had offered to clarify those expectations in writing.

It is not clear to me what bearing the insistence that Guzman teach more has on the tenure case.  I assume that her contract (assuming she has one) specifies that she will teach a minimal amount, if at all.  If the responsibilities of the Writing Center Director have been redefined, then I think the Dean should speak with Guzman and the Department Head about renegotiating the contract.

What are Guzman’s responsibilities?  Which did she fulfill?  Fail?

Guzman’s responsibilities are to direct the writing center and to maintain her scholarship and research; the case does not state whether she has any teaching responsibilities.  She was also expected to contribute in some unspecified way to the development of a new program in technology and culture.  The case does not say whether and how she is evaluated as writing center director and whether this has any bearing on her evaluation of tenure.  It therefore appears that the real issue here is whether she has fulfilled her responsibility to publish sufficient research and scholarship to satisfy the criteria for tenure. 

All indications are that the quality and quantity of her published research and scholarship should be sufficient to meet the criteria for tenure.  If pressed, I would say that she should have insisted upon clarification in writing from the Department Head about what would constitute acceptable scholarship and research.  Because she was getting “mixed” signals, she should have insisted upon explicit clarification from the Chair about what would constitute an acceptable focus and outlet for her research. The purpose of the Promotion & Tenure process is to give the candidate formative feedback about her progress toward tenure.  If the committees and administrators are doing their job of communicating candidly and explicitly with the candidate, then she puts herself at risk if she opts to ignore their advice.

What went wrong?  What went right?

As I state above, I think this case got off to a wrong start with the “administration’s” decision to hire Guzman as Writing Center Director; the case does not indicate that the English department concurred with this decision or even that it was consulted.  (Was this viewed as a “staff” hire?  To whom does Guzman report as Writing Center Director?)  As talented as she may be, Guzman does not present the credentials and qualifications that candidates for this position are typically expected to have.  All of the problems devolve from that initial questionable hiring decision.

But, once the decision is made to hire this person, then both the candidate and the administration have a responsibility, respectively, to obtain and to clarify the criteria for her to succeed in the position.  Throughout this case, this kind of clarification seems to have been lacking.  In fact, a failure of communication accounts for most of the problems.  In this case, there seem to have been only two moments in the process at which the candidate got any kind of feedback on her progress: at the 3rd year review and in the 5th year.  Shouldn’t the Head have been reviewing  and evaluating Guzman’s work all along?  Was she not appointed a faculty mentor from the department in which she was being evaluated?  And shouldn’t the Head have been encouraging some kinds of research and discouraging others?  And shouldn’t these recommendations have been made explicit not only to her but to others who would be responsible for evaluating her work? 

Finally, the Writing Center Director issue seems to be something of a red herring in this case.  Guzman was hired to do a job she was not really qualified for; an “assistant” was hired to handle most of the work; the administration observes at some point that Guzman is not doing much in the Writing Center and recommends that she teach more.  I do not believe this is the typical career path for most Writing Center Directors.

Renew Your Membership

Join CCCC today!
Learn more about the SWR book series.
Connect with CCCC
CCCC on Facebook
CCCC on LinkedIn
CCCC on Twitter
CCCC on Tumblr
OWI Principles Statement
Join the OWI discussion


Copyright © 1998 - 2024 National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved in all media.

1111 W. Kenyon Road, Urbana, Illinois 61801-1096 Phone: 217-328-3870 or 877-369-6283

Looking for information? Browse our FAQs, tour our sitemap and store sitemap, or contact NCTE

Read our Privacy Policy Statement and Links Policy. Use of this site signifies your agreement to the Terms of Use