Rethinking full-professor reviews

Post-tenure review is viewed by many professors with skepticism.As InsideHigherEd reports, “To some, itimgres seems like an attack on tenure; to others, a waste of time. And recentannouncements by two colleges, Ball State and Suffolk Universities, that they’re considering adopting post-tenure review policies that could in some cases lead to dismissal have brought out those skeptics.

“But at another college, administrators say they’re hoping to shore up an existing post-tenure review policy not in an attempt to weed out the bad professors, but to make the good ones better. So Westmont College’s newly mandatory, peer-led reviews for full professors raise the question: Can post-tenure review win faculty backing?

“One principle that I think is important in thinking about full professor reviews is to think of them as something that’s designed to be enriching for anyone who goes through it,” he said, “rather than something that’s designed to be a bureaucratic competency check for all faculty members.”Sargent said that means the process has to be faculty-driven. Luckily for him, even before his arrival at the college two years ago, Westmont had in its faculty handbook a periodic peer-review policy for “accountability of full professors.”

“The policy was formerly enforced on a voluntary basis. Sargent is making it mandatory, starting next year.The policy says that after a faculty member becomes a full professor, he or she will participate every six years in a “structured process of discussion, reflection, evaluation and future goals.” The purpose of the process, Westmont says, “is to encourage ongoing personal and professional development in all areas of service to the college.” The review process involves meeting with the provost and an individual written reflection component, but it hinges on work with a mutual mentoring group that meets on its own throughout the semester. This is not a system for getting rid of tenured professors.

“Previously, the faculty Professional Development Committee has assigned full professors who volunteer for review to groups of three to five. At each mentoring meeting, professors are supposed to share with peers how they’ve developed as teachers and scholars, and how their philosophies on education have evolved. They’re encouraged to explore goals, share insights, get advice and observe one another’s teaching.There’s no prescribed place or way to meet. But Russell Smelley, professor of kinesiology, recommends “food and wine.” He completed a post-tenure review several years ago, and said the meeting over dinner followed two other meetings with his peer review group. While the initial discussions were fruitful, he said, the last helped coax the bigger “introverts” in the group out of their shells to share some of their frustrations and successes about being teachers. It helped to have a gregarious group member, an education professor, who took on the role of leader or facilitator, he added.Smelley said that sense of camaraderie was the biggest — and most surprising — takeaway from the review. Rather than feeling “critiqued,” as one might expect, he said, the experience made him feel more connected to his fellow professors.That helped alleviate some of the isolation he and his peers feel after decades working long hours, often alone, at the institution.“There is this desire to be connected to other people,” Smelley said. “You start to think that you work the hardest or that your job’s the most difficult, and you get isolated. Everybody feels that pressure as an individual, but hearing that it’s universal was helpful to me.” Smelley remembered the administrative check-in at the end of the group’s work as a “positive,” mainly because “there was no evaluative aspect to it.”

 

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