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Department Chair #3

Harrison Spenser: Case #5

Characterization of Institution

A private comprehensive University (i.e., we grant 3 Ph.D.s in science, lots of assorted Masters degrees, and M.D./D.D.S./ J.D. and professional doctorates in occupational and physical therapy, and Pharm.D.s).

Characterization of Department

M.A. in literature, composition and rhetoric, teaching of literature, and teaching of writing, and creative writing.
B.A. in English, with tracks in literature, creative writing, English Education., and Irish literature.

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

First, let me say that this poor guy’s been whipsawed around for 6 years–his problems are the product of bad choices and  bad or nonexistent advising.  If Spencer had been here, he would have had a faculty mentor to hopefully advice him against taking on so much service.  His service seems fine–actually half of this service would be fine–it’s good that he has University committee service, but he has too much of it. His teaching is more difficult to assess–he certainly would have been better to focus on undergraduate teaching–especially at our school–but the scenario given doesn’t give me 6 years of data to look at.  Therefore I do not know if he improved or not.  The graduate teaching is good, but isn’t as important here as undergraduate teaching.  The publication/scholarship–that’s tougher.  As I count it, he has a book, 4 reviews, 7 presentations, the software package, and an online article.  That might get tenure where I am, but I doubt that it would get promotion to Associate Professor as well.  He needs more single-authored stuff.  It’s not a matter of not valuing the software; it’s a matter of him having only 2, maybe 3, significant works in 6 years.  If he were my colleague, I would support his application, but I wouldn’t be sanguine about the prospects.  Here the “general” count is 6-8 articles in juried publications.  Even if he’s had the software package count as an article, it’s still a little weak.

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

It depends, really, on which department head.  The first department head failed in that he or she should have been very specific regarding the expectations for tenure and promotion in the depoartment and more specifically the College.   If there is an expectation –general, mythical, or explicit–the Chair should know it, and tell the junior faculty member of it when s/he walks through the gates.  I feel, too, that s/he did not emphasize enough in the first three years that the weaknesses were indeed weaknesses.  And “defending the use of computers to the literature faculty of the department?”  What is this?  Is this part of his job description?  I hope not.  Spencer’s’s there to promote use of technology, maybe, but it should not be the job of a brand-new junior faculty member to win over tenured faculty with different ideologies.  This is setting Spencer up for failure–the Department Head shouldn’t have let him get into this trap.  S/he’d have been better off getting someone else to help Spencer with the grant.  It’s the head’s job  to help the new faculty member with the existing “power relationships” in the department.

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

Our department does not have a personnel committee.  Oddly enough, the departments here don’t vote or decide tenure—it’s a matter of the Chair recommending to the Dean, then a college committee, auUniversity committeee, and then the President, who makes the final decision.

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

S/he should have given Spencer a 2/2 load for every year–directing a lab  is worth a course release.  I know this from hard experience.

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

It’s very flattering to be asked on M.A. and Ph.D. committees—but junior faculty should watch this carefully.  Spencer grievously overcommitted himself.  This would not happen–or at least we’d take great steps not to let this happen—in our department.  I don’t mean to polish our apple, but we assign new faculty mentors from among the tenured faculty—and not just the handiest tenured faculty, but the ones who are on the ball, have good track records themselves, who made tenure and promotion (not always a given here) in good time and with good publication, teaching, and  service records.  If this person were in my department, the mentor would have told him to cut back.  All of the committees, the grant work–without a solid publication record already, worked together to suck up his remaining time. 

What went wrong?  What went right?

Most everything I can see went wrong; little went right in terms of Spencer’s position.

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