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Chair, Personnel Committee #2

Sherry Richer: Case #4

Characterization of Institution

Research I

Characterization of Department

Ph.D. granted in English
Ph.D. granted in Composition/Rhetoric
M.A. granted in English
M.A. granted in Composition/Rhetoric
B.A. granted in English

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

How would Richer’s case turn out?  The chair could recommend that the dean give Richer a one-year terminal contract at this point.  Or she could recommend another three-year contract, noting in the clearest possible terms what Richer will have to do before her sixth-year tenure review.  The following scenario assumes that Richer’s chair is willing to ask the college that Richer be renewed for an additional three years.

The conversation: The chair reviews Richer’s achievements in the three traditional areas of faculty effort: teaching, research, and service.  She notes Richer’s good progress as a teacher, pointing to evidence accumulated over three years that, after a rocky start, she is adjusting nicely to the demands of both undergraduate and graduate instruction.  The chair then iumps ahead to service, a category in which Richer plainly excels.  There is no question that Richer is making significant contributions to the intellectual life of the department, as well as to the campus at large.  Indeed, the chair worries aloud that Richer’s service contributions are so great that some colleagues may question whether she has enough time to sustain a serious program of research.  And that, in fact, is the question the chair next pursues.  She asks Richer how she plans to complete a book by the time she is up for tenure.  Richer explains her research interest—examining how TAs integrate technology into their teaching—and the chair agrees that this is a promising line of inquiry.  But she raises two questions, one about content, the other about timing.  The chair presses Richer for details about how she will frame her report, how she will make it of interest to the sort of first- or second-tier university presses acceptable to her departmental colleagues.  Richer is able to name a range of presses that she and the chair agree might publish her work.  Then the chair asks how Sherry is coming along with the writing, how soon she might be sending out query letters to press editors. Sherry offers an optimistic answer—she thinks the manuscript will be done within a year and a half—to which the chair responds by working through what she knows to be a reasonable schedule for getting a manuscript in press.  Six months or more for querying various presses, six to nine months for review of the complete manuscript by the press showing the greatest interest, several months for requested revisions, up to three months for approval by the editorial board, then nine months to a year in production.  Richer reluctantly agrees with her chair that it will be extremely difficult for her to have a book under contract and in press by September of her sixth year—just two years and four months away.  Even if she does, her tenure case could be problematic. College and campus tenure committees prefer to see a book in print, or at least page proofs.  There is no chance that Richer will find herself in this position, no matter how hard she works.  After Richer and her chair brainstorm ways for her to clear time to write, the chair adds a discouraging afterthought: Richers two publications are likely not to be esteemed by her colleagues, the one because it is online and because it was invited, the other because it appeared in an edited collection not published by a university or association press.

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

Richer’s chair failed her by not working with her from the start to understand and meet the department’s tenure standard.  Annual reviews backed with creative plans for clearing time to write would have been an immense help.  Some might even argue that the chair failed Richer by not opting to issue her a terminal contract, given how unlikely it is that Richer will finish her book on time.

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

Not applicable at the two Research I institutions with which I’ve been affiliated..

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

The dean should insist that chairs in her college produce annual reviews of untenured faculty members—reviews that are substantial and (at least every other year) inspected by a department’s tenured faculty members before being forwarded to the dean. These reviews should include serious accounts of teaching, service, and research—and should be most candid in their assessment of an untenured colleague’s research program.

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

Perhaps Richer should have sought out the advice of colleagues as she pursued interests in teaching, service, and research that did not advance her rapidly along a course toward completing a book manuscript.  Perhaps she should have asked about the process of finishing and placing such a manuscript.  Perhaps.  But, as an assistant professor, it’s hard to know what questions to ask, when to ask them, and of whom.  If Richer has an important responsibility at this point, it’s to figure out what sort of institution will reward the mix of teaching, service, and research she’s comfortable doing–and to seek employment there.

What went wrong?  What went right?

What went right?  As a result of challenges in the classroom, Richer grew as a teacher.  As a result of her work with TAs, she learned much—and shared much—about how to help others to integrate technology into the teaching of college writing.  These are considerable achievements, and should be recognized as such by Sherry’s colleagues.

What went wrong?  Sherry apparently didn’t receive the early guidance she should have, guidance that would have helped her seek out and stay on the path toward publication of the sort demanded by her department.  This guidance might have opened up a conversation—again, early—that could have led Sherry’s chair and colleagues to be accepting of a book project like that she seems poised, at the end of year three, to launch.  Sadly, the nature and quality of Sherry’s book project really aren’t at issue, given the near impossibility of completing the task in time for her sixth-year tenure review.

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