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Chair, Personnel Committee #1

Harrison Spenser: Case #5

Characterization of Institution

My institution is a Reseach I University. We have high standards for tenure/promotion, and over the last few years a single authored book with a university press has become the expectation.   However, we also have found ourselves demanding a great deal of service from our pre-tenure people because they bring in expertise, such as that described in this case, that senior faculty either do not have or have no interest in acquiring. Regardless of that demand, however, the pre-tenure people are still expected to meet the standards of “traditional” tenure/promotion guidelines.

Characterization of Department

Ph.D. granted in Composition/Rhetoric
M.A. granted in Composition/Rhetoric
B.A. granted in Composition/Rhetoric
M.S. granted in Technical Communication.

How would Harrison Spenser’s case turn out in your department?  At your university/college?

There is a key phrase in this case: “The committee recognized his book at the end of his first year but noted it was underway pre-hire.” With this book in place, Spencer’s tenure review would have probably been positive at my institution. The case would have been made stronger by publication of journal articles in print (rather than online). His conference work and his service, however, would have been recognized by the department as appropriate to his area of expertise. In addition, the external review letters written for tenure/promotion carry a tremendous amount of weight during a review here. If Spencer’s reviewers attested to his national expertise in the area of technology and composition/communication (as evidenced in this case), then he would have an excellent chance at tenure. Moreover, the department chair has a great deal of influence—and an agreement is made when the faculty member is first hired. In other words, the change in the chair in this case might not negatively affect Spencer if his hiring was based on his furthering the department’s expertise in technology/communication and indeed he has done that. These agreements again can be made in writing and therefore will protect the faculty member from a change in leadership in the department.  It seems that Spencer’s combination of traditional (the book) and non-traditional or innovative research and publication would lead to tenure at my institution.

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

The Department Head should have a written contract with Spencer, made within his first year, about the specific requirements of his position. These can vary greatly among faculty and therefore can be made specific to any one job. This written agreement would have protected Spencer from a change in leadership at the end of his pre-tenure period. However, the Department Head failed to protect Spencer from (1) the burden of too much service and (2) difficult negotiations with senior faculty members. The first protection can be given in terms of course release or summer grants to provide the pre-tenure faculty member with a block of time to finish research projects. The Department Head should have taken leadership in negotiating with more senior members of the department.

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

The Personnel Committee Chair should have solicited and read carefully outside letters of evaluation for the faculty member. These experts in the specific area of research can protect the pre-tenure faculty member from departmental politics. Outside letters can attest to the status of unusual publications (such as in online journals) and the impact of the pre-tenure faculty member’s thinking on the field of technology and communication. The letters should be solicited and read by all those voting for or against tenure for the individual.

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

I don’t see a role that the Dean took in this case. At my institution, the Dean does not read the file under it has gone through the department and the college P and T committee. He seldom overturns these earlier votes.

What are Spencer’s responsibilities?  Which did he fulfill?  Fail?

Spencer should have worked hard to estimate the amount of time it would take to fulfill his research projects and continually renegotiate with the Head his responsibilities to keep them at a reasonable level. He should have developed professional contacts outside the department—at conferences, for example—so that he could have strong letters of evaluations from experts in his field to convince his department. He should have asked for additional course release and a DEPARTMENTAL MENTOR who would guide him through his pre-tenure years (the mentor should not be the Head).

What went wrong?  What went right?

Expectations for the particular nature of Spencer’s job were not put in the form of a “contract.” However, Spencer’s case is not at all unusual—and he needs to draw upon the help of experts outside his department to help him make tenure. He needs an agreement about the amount of service that he will do—and the help he will get in doing it. It would be great if our field could establish those—for example, anyone setting up and running a computer lab should get one course release per year.

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