Conference on College Composition and Communication Logo

Department Chair #1

Harrison Spenser: Case #5

Characterization of Institution

Research I University

Characterization of Department

Ph.D. granted in Composition/Rhetoric
Ph.D. in Tech Comm/Rhetoric
M.A.T.C. (M.A. in Technical Communication) undergraduate specialization in Technical Communication
Ph.D. granted in English,
M.A. granted in English
B.A. granted in English

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

If Spencer were to come up for tenure here with one book (accepted for publication prior to his hire), a couple of articles, a software package, and several reviews, he would have trouble at tenure time.  Our current T&P document specifies that while research published prior to one’s hire is “commendable,” it will not count toward tenure.  The document also specifies that for tenure, a candidate is expected to produce “a published or accepted book, or articles that are equivalent to a book.”  The problem for Spencer would be that faculty couldn’t count his book; without that book, his research profile wouldn’t be equivalent to a book.  Faculty here would have no problems with the fact that much of Spencer’s work is on-line; that’s accepted.  They would have trouble, however, with the fact that most of his work is in the form of book reviews.  He needs more articles.

I would hope, however, that this case would have proceeded differently here, because I would hope Spencer would receive more practical advice and mentoring than he did at his university.  I see that advice/mentoring as being the responsibility of the chair and of members of the T&P committee.  I also see the candidate as bearing some responsibility for making him/herself as well-informed as possible about departmental and university policies.

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

1st: Who assigned administrative duties to Spencer (there’s a passive verb in the description above that hides responsibility; I’m assuming the chair made this assignment)?  As chair, I make every attempt possible to protect untenured faculty from administrative service.  As far as I know, most departments will NOT count administrative work toward tenure.  The candidate assigned such duties is caught in a terrible bind; as an untenured person, s/he has little power to enforce administrative decisions AND s/he is not getting credit for all this administrative work.  It’s simply not fair to put an untenured person in this bind.  The chair should have found someone else to assume primary responsibility for the lab, perhaps with Spencer as an associate to this person.

2nd: The chair should have notified Spencer that the department wasn’t going to count his book–and should have asked Spencer if Spencer wanted that chair to see if the department might be willing to make an exception to its policy.  Routinely, when I hire candidates who bring a strong research record to this institution, I encourage faculty to vote in favor of counting at least some of that pre-employment record when it comes time for tenure.  Faculty generally vote positively; we then have this vote on record.

3rd: Spencer has a 2/2 load.  What load do other new faculty carry?  Is Spencer carrying more than others because he has the computer lab administrative duties?

4th: The scenario notes that in Spencer’s first year review, the chair conveys his concerns about Spencer’s lack of publication but focuses on the benefits of Spencer’s grant-writing, etc.  Are these concerns on paper?   Are the benefits on paper?  I would hope the chair, and Spencer, put these comments on paper.  It’s important for both parties that they have a paper-trail, establishing what Spencer was told to expect.  How does the departmental policy statement on T&P value grantwriting?  Is this component important in tenure cases?

5th: During Spencer’s second year, the chair asks for volunteers to serve on Spencer’s committee, rather than appointing members.  While the call for volunteers may entice interested parties, it does not lend administrative strength to Spencer or to his committee.  Spencer has little public clout.

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

The Personnel Committee Chair should take a more active role in clarifying, for Spencer, what the department’s expectations are.  The committee chair and the department chair can work together to inform the candidate about the specifics of his candidacy.

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

Here, the Dean of the College reads the Chair’s Annual Assessment of each faculty member and meets with the Chair to discuss each faculty person (the assessment are in January; the Dean and Chair meet in February).  Assuming that the Chair reported Spencer’s slow progress toward publication to the Dean, she most likely would have urged the Chair to carry back her concerns to Spencer.  The Chair then would meet with Spencer and convey to him what the Dean had said.  The Dean might query the Chair about the department’s willingness to accept on-line and software publication and probably would encourage the chair to include guidelines about such publication in the department’s T& P policy statement.

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

Spencer takes on too much–but can’t be expected to know that he is taking on too much.  Spencer should have clarified the status of his book before accepting the position; he should have clarified administrative duties; he should have gotten, in writing, some statement about how his admin. work would count toward tenure.  He should have focused more on developing his conference presentations into articles.  He should have left the book reviews until after tenure (at least here, book reviews count for next to nothing).

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.

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