10 No. 4
The Long and Winding Road
Tenure and the Presidential Advisory Committee
Presidential Advisory Committee
“I get a lot of files to read for the PAC, and I start reading and say, Why am I spending my time? This is clearly someone there is no question about.”
“I think [the PAC has] helped to elevate the aspirations of the various units, to create a more uniform scholarly work culture. ”
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Academic Exchange: You’re now in your second year on the PAC. What purpose do you think it serves?
Robyn Fivush: I’m just not sure it’s necessary. I think it depends on how the president and provost use the meetings. Each faculty member who is coming up for tenure and promotion goes through whatever departmental review, then they go to some kind of interdisciplinary committee in their school, and then that recommendation goes to their dean, who writes a letter to the provost. So they’ve already been reviewed by an interdisciplinary committee within their school.
When I served on the college Tenure and Promotion Committee I was happy to do it. And it was very confirming that my colleagues and I did our homework. We read those files. I get a lot of files to read for the PAC, and I start reading and say, Why am I spending my time? This is clearly someone there is no question about. The letter from the dean to the provost, the letter from the interdisciplinary committee in the school, the letter from the department all say the same thing.
I think that we could probably do this by looking at less of the information. I can’t read the research of someone who’s doing work on radiating liver ulcers. But if I get an executive summary that says this guy has published 218 articles and he’s considered the expert in the field, and the outside letters say the same, what am I going to add?
AE: What sorts of issues come up?
RF: One of the things that comes up in the PAC meetings is every school uses a different grading system. For instance, in the college it’s “Excellent,” “Very Good,” “Good,” And in the medical school it’s “Outstanding,” “Excellent,” and so on. If there is some value to having a university-wide evaluation structure, that structure should be comparable. The other thing that comes up in the PAC a lot is that there are places where you can’t have direct comparability. In the college, teaching is just very different than it is in the medical school. So the question is, is it useful to educate faculty in different schools on how we really do different things? We’re all scholars, we all do research, we all do some form of teaching, some form of mentoring. But how we may do it in the same way or differently, does that ultimately matter? I think with the new strategic initiatives that are trying to be cross-cutting across the schools, it is helpful to have a better understanding of the evaluation criteria, but if we are only educating the faculty about that through the PAC, do we need the PAC? I’m not sure we do.
AE: Do you think it has gotten harder to get tenure in the past decade?
RF: I’m not sure the criteria have changed. The perception is that the criteria have changed and it’s harder to get tenure. This is something certainly that administrators have said: ‘We’re raising the bar, increasing academic standards.’ But I’m not sure what that means when it actually comes to tenure cases. I look around at the senior faculty, and a lot of us came to Emory as junior faculty and developed our careers here. We’re a remarkable faculty. We would have gotten tenure at most major universities. And we certainly are not staying at Emory because it’s our only option.
You have to do more now with the teaching portfolio. When I was a junior faculty, you had your teaching evaluations, maybe you had a couple of peer evaluations from one or two semesters, and you wrote a very brief teaching statement—I think mine was two paragraphs. Now there’s a quantitative and a qualitative evaluation. The teaching statement is three to five pages. You include syllabi and multiple peer evaluations.
I do think it was a positive thing, because we didn’t want to simply evaluate teaching on the basis of the evaluations you got in your classes. We understood that teaching is well beyond that, not only in terms of qualitative evaluations but also in terms of the kind of teaching done outside of the classroom: mentoring, engaging undergraduate students in the process of scholarship, graduate mentoring, outreach. I barely had to document those things when I was a junior faculty in the department. I think it has been a very good move to understand that teaching is very broadly defined. It’s not just about getting high numbers in a classroom; it’s about really integrating the students into the life of the university and the life of a scholar. It’s become almost more of a burden in some ways to document your teaching. Harder, but it’s all for good reason.