Guest Column: Demystifying Promotion Reviews

Guest Column: Demystifying Promotion Reviews

By Tom MillerOffice of the Provost
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Tom Miller
Tom Miller
Cynthia White
Cynthia White
Tannis Gibson
Tannis Gibson
Christine Kollen
Christine Kollen

Over 100 tenure, nontenure and continuing-status candidates go up for promotion each year, and many more faculty members are involved in reviewing those candidates for promotion. In fact, a couple dozen faculty members review every dossier as it moves through the review process and lands on the provost's desk.

We invest an incredible amount of time in promotion reviews, but the process itself can be a bit mysterious. Every review is confidential, so candidates and reviewers do not really know how dossiers are assessed at successive steps in the process. Reviews for promotion on the continuing status and nontenure tracks can be even more mysterious because some department heads have less experience with them.

To demystify the promotion process, a series of workshops is held each spring that provides candidates and reviewers with a chance to talk with other faculty involved in university-level reviews. The co-chairs of the University's promotion and tenure committee are Cynthia White, professor of French and Italian, and Tannis Gibson, professor in the School of Music, while the committee for reviewing candidates for promotion and continuing status is chaired by Christine Kollen, librarian with University Libraries. The co-chairs of these committees will share insights from their experiences in the upcoming workshops along with other senior faculty who work with promotion reviews across campus.

One of the major benefits of the promotion workshops, according to White, is that they provide candidates with the chance to "clarify what details are essential in documenting their individual disciplinary contributions to research, teaching and service. The workshops also provide a bird's-eye view of our full academic community that can help candidates consider the larger UA research, instructional and service missions in fine-tuning their portfolios." That "bird's-eye view" can help candidates consider how to use the University's inclusive view of scholarship to frame their varied contributions. White particularly recommended that candidates review "The Guide to the Promotion Process," especially the section focused on "Avoiding the Most Common Problems in Dossiers."

The promotion review process is the same for candidates for tenure and continuing status, but continuing-status candidates face distinctive challenges because continuing-status professionals play a range of roles that extends from Cooperative Extension agents and librarians to research scientists and graduate faculty. Position effectiveness is a key consideration in assessing candidates for continuing status, as Kollen and her collaborators know quite well from reviewing candidates for continuing status from across the University. Kollen has highlighted the candidate statement as an opportunity to put candidates' careers in context. As Kollen notes, "the candidate statement should provide details on the candidate's position effectiveness to show how research and service relate and highlight noteworthy accomplishments and impact."

Reflecting on her own experiences preparing and reviewing promotion dossiers, Gibson noted that "the process of going up for promotion can be quite stressful." She observed that the workshops help reduce that anxiety by enabling participants to understand how their dossiers will be read by varied reviewers: "All faculty should come away from the workshops with a greater working knowledge of how the parts of the dossier fit together."

The workshops are:

  • Making a Statement in Candidate Statements: March 30, 8-9:30 a.m., Old Main, Silver and Sage Room. RSVP here
  • Promotion Opportunities for Faculty Not on the Tenure Track: April 4, 8:30-10 a.m., Old Main, Silver and Sage Room. RSVP here
  • Preparing the Promotion Dossier: April 13, 8-9:15 a.m., Koffler, Room 218. No RSVP required. 
  • Using Teaching and Outreach Portfolios to Document Impact: April 26, 8:30-10 a.m., Old Main, Silver and Sage Room. RSVP here.

Gibson recommended that candidates and reviewers come to the workshops with questions for the small group discussions, such as:  

  • How do I identify external evaluators who can effectively assess my work?
  • What goes into the teaching portfolio? 
  • Are teacher-course evaluations really that important?
  • How many peer evaluations should be included?
  • Does a tenure-clock delay affect a promotion application?
  • Are cases that go up early assessed differently from mandatory reviews?

Such questions can be difficult to answer for promotion candidates on the nontenure track. Colleges and departments across campus have been expanding opportunities for nontenure-track faculty to go up for promotion to professor of practice and other positions in recent years. Those efforts have been supported by Faculty Senate leaders Michael Brewer, vice chair of the faculty and head of the Department of Research and Learning in University Libraries, and Mika Galilee-Belfer, co-chair of the UA Strategic Planning and Budgeting Advisory Committee and director of strategic planning/special projects in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, who will update campus on ongoing efforts in an upcoming Lo Que Pasa article. While only one of the spring workshop series focuses explicitly on nontenure-track promotion reviews, the entire workshop series will provide interactive opportunities for tenure, nontenure, and continuing-status candidates to discuss practical strategies that they can use to document their varied contributions. 

Tom Miller is vice provost for faculty affairs and professor of English. 

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