You may have noticed a lull in my postings here. I’ve been laboring to put the finishing touches on my dossier for my sixth year review. This dossier is the document on which a succession of committees will be basing their decisions as to whether San José State University will be tenuring me and promoting me to associate professor, or whether they will be thanking me for my service and sending me on my way.
It’s an awful lot of responsibility to put in the clutches of a three-ring binder, don’t you think?
I should explain a little bit about the “retention, tenure, and promotion” (or RTP) process at my university, since different universities do these things quite differently.
Way back in the new faculty orientations my first year, we were encouraged to think of our “professional profile” as having three main parts, teaching, scholarship, and service. Here, teaching and scholarship are (officially, at least) regarded as equally important, with service not quite at the same level of importance (but important enough that official notice would be taken of shirkers). From the beginning, the folks orienting us to our new academic assignments were helping us see how our various professional activities fit into the RTP policies that would be used to evaluate us. This was a really useful start.
The dossier itself more or less captures the teaching/scholarship/service categories impressed on us as faculty newbies. The faculty member preparing a dossier is handed a set of eight uniform dividers for a three-ring binder. Four of these impose the main structure on the materials the faculty member assembles, marking out sections dealing with teaching effectiveness, service to students and the university, scholarly or creative activity, and what amounts to service within or related to your field of scholarship. (In other words, “service” is subdivided into teaching- and scholarship-related categories.) The other four tabs are for forms, recommendations of chairs and committees, and so on — essentially, these are sections of the dossier that are filled in once the dossier leaves the hands of the faculty members.
Within the four large sections the faculty member fills in, there are some standardized subsections that are required (such as a list of all the courses you’ve taught and copies of all the official student evaluations of your classes), but there is also room to add subsections to document relevant but non-standard activities or contributions. The dividers enshrine the RTP policies as they are applied to faculty in all the departments, schools, and colleges in the university — not just philosophers, but scientists, engineers, faculty in music and visual arts, etc. As you might imagine, this means the uniform policies need to be applied to professional trajectories that can look very different in their particulars.
A faculty member puts together the first incarnation of the RTP dossier in year 2 of his or her appointment. This means that, after barely a year of employment, you’re being asked to put together a binder making the case for your value to the organization. (“Didn’t you guys just hire me? Don’t you have faith in your own search process?”) One adds to and adjusts the second year dossier to assemble the fourth year dossier, and then puts together the version on which tenure hangs in year six, by which time it looks something like this:
There’s about an inch of unused binding power there! If I’m granted tenure, I may be able to keep using this single binder for the dossier I hope eventually to prepare for promotion to full professor.
Not that I can think that far ahead right at this moment.
The organization of your RTP dossier is an exercise in presenting your professional activities in such a way that their quality and significance, and the connections between them, are intelligible. The dossier is the faculty member’s proxy in the committees that will decide whether tenure and promotion are appropriate. So there’s a reasonable amount of pressure to make the dossier tell your story (and sing your praises) in a clear and compelling way. The committees can’t speak to what isn’t in the dossier (unless the faculty member makes a big mistake like omitting a required component — and then, the committees can probably only comment on the omission itself, rather than on the content of what was omitted).
Here’s a glimpse of some of the parts I’ve included in my dossier. See those DVDs? Those contain the 15 lectures we produced for my online philosophy of science course. According to our current RTP policy, the development of that course counts as scholarly achievement. (However, as a number of people had mentioned to me that some members of RTP committees seem to best remember the policy as it stood when they were tenured, my description of this scholarly achievement was prefaced with a citation of the relevant bit of the current policy … just to make things easier on the folks reading the dossier.)
Hey, is that a tab that says “Academic Blogging”?
Yes, it is.
My department has been quite insistent that the blogging I do here does constitute a kind of scholarly activity that ought to be recognized. They think that communicating philosophy to a wider audience is A Good Thing. So, a colleague wrote an evaluative letter about a selection of posts, and that letter and the posts are included in the dossier. I’ll let you know how that goes.
In some ways, the collection of the letters evaluating one’s every contribution (be it pedagogical, scholarly, or servile) is the most challenging part of the process, because you have to bug other people. Sometimes repeatedly. The dossier closes Friday, and I’m still waiting on two letters.
Once the dossier leaves my hands, it goes first to my department RTP committee. They all read it, meet to discuss it, and write their recommendation based upon it. I get a copy of their recommendation and 7 days to submit a response if I disagree with their recommendation (or feel like what they say in their recommendation overlooks something important that’s in the dossier, etc.)
Then, the dossier and the department RTP committee’s recommendation (plus my response, if I make one) moves up to the college RTP committee. They all read the dossier (plus the department committee’s recommendation), meet to discuss it, and write their recommendation based upon it. I get a copy of their recommendation and 7 days to submit a response.
Then, the dossier (and the department RTP committee’s recommendation, the college RTP committee’s recommendation, and any responses I’ve made to these recommendations) moves up to the university RTP committee. They all read the dossier (plus the other committees’ recommendations and any responses), meet to discuss it, and write their recommendation based upon it. I get a copy of their recommendation and 7 days to submit a response.
Then it moves up to the university president for final judgment. The letter conveying that judgment typically goes out right before commencement.
By Friday, I hope to be at the stage where I can let go of actively worrying about this whole process and the peculiarities of decisions made by committees. I seem to recall that there are important aspects of life that you can’t cram into a three-hole punch.