Thursday, October 23, 2014
Over, Around, and Through the Cookoo's Nest of Tenure and Promotion Decisions
Suppose behind the veil of ignorance you were designing a process to determine whether someone is awarded lifetime employment (or an annuity as some skeptics would say). You do not know if you are -- when the veil is lifted- the candidate, those deciding, those paying the salary, or those who would not be able to find a job because the one that might be right for you is taken up by a life-timer.
Here is the process I am pretty sure would evolve and has evolved at a school I have only heard about.
1. The candidate's scholarship would be mailed out to experts in the field some of which are friends of the candidate, some of whom the candidate has alerted in advance they the may be asked to comment, and some simply selected by the candidate. The letters are likely to be all positive and, if any are not, the writer of the letter is ignored or criticized. The letters are passed onto the faculty without comment or evaluation. An alternative to this is to not have scholarship reviewed at all since it rarely makes a difference.
2. People would visit the candidates class to evaluate teaching. Then they would sign what might as well be a form letter saying how much the enjoyed the class and that the teacher was superior. A really negative review might say the teacher's tie clashed with his trousers. An alternative would be to forego teaching evaluations and just submit a form letter written for all candidates for every class.
3.As noted, steps one and two are irrelevant in some cases. Suppose the candidate did not say hello to you properly on a couple of occasions. Maybe he or she was too friendly with some people you don't like. It is important to start the whispering campaign. Demonstrate your indignation to people like yourself who are only looking out for the students and taxpayers. Be sure to emphasize the clashing tie as indicative of disregard for good teaching and the fact that one of the review letters, although glowing, was late.
4. Be secretive and self righteous. Do not mention any of these concerns to the candidate or anyone other than your clique before the secret meeting at which the candidate is discussed because nothing is worse than opposing a candidate and giving the candidate an opportunity to respond.
So, there you have it. The process that takes everyone's interests into account, creates deniability and gives life time employment to the best people. Right? Yes, it is right but remember this is the Cookoo's nest and in the Cookoo's nest things are different.
There is also the not-in-the-Cookoo's-nest approach. It might go like this.
1. A committee of scholars and good teachers with no political axes to grind select reviewers for the candidates writings. The reviewers are asked to be completely frank. People who agree politically with the candidate are not selected nor are any people to whom the candidates has attempted to ingratiate himself. The names of the reviewers are not disclosed in hopes this will provide them with a spine.
2. Classes are visited but any letter that is unequivocally positive or uses words like "superior," "gifted," or "extraordinary" is rejected.
3. An evaluative committee examines all these materials and makes a recommendation to the faculty well in advance of the full meeting of the faculty and invites comments from others on the faculty and the candidate.
4. Individual faculty must voice concerns to the candidate or the evaluative committee before the faculty meeting. Anyone who snakes around office to office to voice their indignation is excluded from the full meeting, shunned, and sentenced to time out.
5. No subjects may be raised at the meeting that were not already raised with the evaluative committee and about which notice was given to the candidate.
Please don't comment. I know the non CooKoo's nest approach is unobtainable in the world of the entitled and self-important.