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Revised Promotion, Tenure Policy 'empowering' in transparency, equality

It's being touted as a two-year exhaustive effort to produce an "empowering" document that brings more transparency, equality and clarity to a process complicated by definitions, old assumptions, unwritten criteria and the changing needs and roles of faculty at New Mexico State University.


The Promotion and Tenure Policy, which will become effective Aug. 1, started growing its roots back in 2004 when a committee was formed to look into the roles and rewards of faculty and staff at NMSU. In its report, the committee recommended changes to the Promotion and Tenure Policy, which had not had a major revision for almost 20 years.

As a result of the recommendations a Promotion and Tenure Policy task force was formed in the fall of 2005. The diverse, 16-member group was given the task of producing a P&T Policy that would serve as the umbrella document for all promotion and tenure policies produced by the colleges and departments at the university.

The revised policy was written completely from scratch. "We decided not to use the old one as a template," said Tracy M. Sterling, professor in the department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science and co-chair of the P&T task force.

"We all had it as background," said Laurence S. Creider, associate professor in the University Library, task force member and Faculty Senate chair when the group was revising the P&T Policy. Creider explained that everyone had a copy of the old policy, but the intent was to write a document that reflected the necessities of a fair and transparent process.

Creider gave an example of some of the changes: "We have done something that the old policy does not do and there is now a section that lays out the responsibilities of every person, at every stage in the process starting with the candidate's responsibilities, going to the department head, the department committee, the college committee, the dean and the provost."

Current Faculty Senate Chair Joseph Pfeiffer sees "flexibility" as the most important factor of the new policy. "The new policy allows -- and even demands -- that as faculty roles and responsibilities change, the criteria on which they are evaluated changes to reflect that," he said.

After many revisions and corrections, a draft was adopted by the Faculty Senate in April 2007 that clarified and put in print many processes that the old policy did not have, Creider said. Since its subsequent approval by the president and regents, the new policy has been available online at http://www.nmsu.edu/~fsenate/ptp/P&TPolicy.pdf. Some colleges and their departments have been given training on the new policy. All colleges' and departments' promotion and tenure policies must have been revised to be in line with the new policy by the end of spring 2008.

Creider and Sterling emphasized that the revision will serve as an umbrella document, but the fundamental promotion and tenure criteria are written by the departments and colleges, which means every department and college should have a promotion and tenure policy that covers their particular discipline. The departmental criteria are fundamental to the whole process and to be developed by the departments with input from the dean.

According to the revised P&T Policy: "Each principal unit must develop written standards by the end of the Spring Semester of 2008 based on criteria developed by that principal unit subject to the approval of the dean or equivalent administrator. Criteria must be clear and readily available to all participants and must be followed by all participants at each level of the process. Therefore, it is imperative that clear standards for annual performance evaluation, promotion and tenure be articulated and broadly publicized."

With departments and colleges writing the criteria for their disciplines the task force wanted to ensure the revised P&T Policy embraced a clear and written "transparency of process." The new policy clearly identifies the areas in which promotion and tenure-track candidates must be judged. The task force used "four types of scholarship as defined by Ernest L. Boyer (1990) in his book 'Scholarship Reconsidered.'"

In particular, the "scholarships of discovery, of teaching, of integration, and of engagement" were championed from the book. The task force further broadened its definition of the criteria by stipulating that "the definition of scholarship reflects the changing roles of faculty members in teaching and advising, scholarship and creative activity, extension and outreach, and service."

"People need to know what is expected of them and they need to know what the process is going to be. It's not fair to tell somebody you have to publish this, this and this and then turn around and say 'you've done that but your teaching isn't any good.' Somewhere, the criteria have to be laid out so the person knows they are responsible for teaching as well as for the research or responsible for the research as well as for the teaching," Creider said.

In emphasizing a "transparency of process," the policy also addresses the key element of "allocation of effort." Creider and Sterling explained that "allocation of effort" is covered under basic fairness and explained that faculty have requirements like teaching, research and service, but along with those responsibilities a faculty member can be assigned other work by the department head or become part of a committee or may be asked to teach an extra class. Whenever this happens, some of the other responsibilities a faculty member is required to fulfill may drop in productivity or accomplishment because that person is doing other work that has kept them from performing their required duties.

To balance this factor, the task force stipulated that "every year when you (faculty) do your performance evaluation, you also fill out a form that describes your allocation of effort and then that is taken into account" in the calculations of the percentages of responsibilities the faculty member performed, Creider said.

"So faculty members are being judged on what they've been asked to do rather than somebody's artificial expectations. And to have it on paper, this document is very empowering for faculty," Sterling said.

"I think one of the biggest fears of faculty is that they will put a great deal of time and effort into a project, and then be informed that -- from the standpoint of their career -- that effort has been wasted," Pfeiffer said. "The new policy clarifies the link between what a faculty member is asked to do, and a requirement that the university reward the task. That's got to be seen as a positive."

Along with making sure promoted and tenure-track faculty understand the expectations of them, several subsections were written in the section that covers roles and responsibilities during the promotion and tenure process. These would require department heads to establish and monitor a mentoring process to help tenure-track faculty candidates develop the best case for promotion and/or tenure.

"They (department heads) must help the candidate make the best case for promotion and/or tenure. They (department heads) may ultimately not choose to recommend them (candidates) for tenure, but it is their responsibility to help them make the best case for tenure," Creider said.

Key elements of the revised Promotion and Tenure Policy:

?Guiding principles - This section addresses the importance of faculty participation, transparency of process, performance evaluation, allocation of effort, professional ranks and flexibility in the extent of the probationary period.
?Criteria for promotion and tenure - This section lays out the basic categories for promotion and tenure: teaching and advising, scholarship and creative activity, extension and outreach, service and leadership. The subsections detail ways of evaluating tenure-track candidates' allocation of effort.
?Policies - This section covers the steps and responsibilities that must be followed university-wide by all groups involved in the tenure process, and requires that colleges and departments make decisions on certain options. It delves into procedures, withdrawal rights, outcomes, appeals and university timelines for promotion and tenure.