Friday, October 23, 2009

Uncomfortable evaluation

I'll start this post out by saying that my Employment U. does Tenure and Promotion different than most. By contract the entire department is involved in the evaluation of all faculty, whether they submit an annual review (Asst. Profs), a tenure package or a semi-annual review (tenured profs). In a given year the department may have 4-6 people being reviewed, all at different stages on the ladder.

This is both a good and bad thing to me. It's certainly nice to have a better feel for the evaluation process and how things work. It turns out that there is no meeting in an underground chamber with candles and mead when it comes to tenure decisions. No conversations with hoods pulled down to obscure half the speaker's face.

I know, I'm a little bummed out that doesn't happen too. I totally thought there was a secret tenure chamber under the old lecture hall.

In any case, it's a bit odd being asked to provide comments on colleagues and their accomplishments after being here for a year. I don't really know the expectations unless I look around at who recently got tenure. Even in that case, our department is diverse enough that a candidate in one year might have a very different CV from one in the next. Some people's research costs $2000 per year and others need $800,000. Teaching expectations are different, depending on one's field, when a person joined the department and how aggressively someone negotiated to get teaching release when they were hired. There is no text book example of some who should get tenure, and I don't think my department is unique in that regard.

I'm sure the older faculty have a better feel for what does and does not fly when it comes to tenure and part of the annual review is to let untenured faculty know when they are off course. But I'm still being asked to evaluate everyone else and that makes me feel a little uneasy. They will never see my signed evaluation, but the chair does and part of me feels like I'm being evaluated on my ability to evaluate, if that makes any sense at all. Maybe it's just that untenured faculty feel like everything is a test, but not only am I thinking about each candidate, I'm also trying to figure out how my comments on each reflects back on me.

No wonder why I never get anything done.


  1. LOL, this is such the classic junior professor phenomenon. Reminds me of a conversation I had with a new hire a couple of years ago who was off to serve for the first time on an NIH study section. He was more concerned with how he would be perceived by the other study section members than he was with reading the grants and giving his HONEST opinion.

    I'm sure there are some politics involved here.

    On the other hand, I have one friend who works in Big Pharma, and this is how they do everything. She says it's great- the idea being that it helps avoid a situation where only 1 person can make or break your career with what they write about you. So in that sense, I wouldn't worry too much about being an outlier- it's designed to take that into account.

    I wonder if they really have time to evaluate your evaluations. Seems unlikely unless they're counting on you to break a tie? In which case I would think you'd be wined and dined into submission? ;-)

  2. Do you use any kind of metrics? Do you get to see (edited) versions of their offer letters that stae their explicit requirements?

  3. No, nothing like that. I only found out today that we even have a departmental statement on expectations. Now I just need to find it.

  4. This is not something to worry about. Your departmental chair is there to support you, not to sit back in his chair's chair with his monocle and say "Ohh, that PLS, he's a total buffoon when it comes to writing reviews."

    Your chair KNOWS that you've only been there for a year and is probably not looking for anything deeply moving or profound from you. He is looking for you to evaluate your colleagues in the stage that you are in, and I'm sure he will keep that in mind as he reads them.

  5. When I had to do this regarding senior but still untenured folks, I always considered the fact that these were the folks that would be voting on my tenure case. Hmm... In a small department, is there truly a thing called anonymity? Doesn't this set up a mild conflict of interest? Can you really say what you honestly feel? I think not. It cultivates a preschool like atmosphere in which everybody is doing great!