Context: I wrote this essay in 1995. The situation at Seaver College has changed somewhat since then as the institution continues to place increasing importance on academic standards. Hence, some of the following comments may not apply in the current environment.

The Rank, Tenure, and Promotion Process at Seaver College:
Some Philosophical Considerations

Recent discussions within the Seaver College RTP Committee have brought to the surface some philosophical questions about the purpose and procedures of the committee. It is good that we go through periods of self-examination from time to time and we should welcome the discussion that such periods bring.

The issues divide into three broad categories:

The following thoughts on these three issues are offered in the context of my serving on the committee for the last three and a half years. I believe they represent the context in which the committee has operated in the recent past. However, I acknowledge that some may disagree with the philosophy expressed herein.

Committee versus academic division

The RTP handbook, which is approved by the faculty, vests power in the RTP committee to make recommendations to the administration on matters of tenure and promotion. The committee's members are elected from the college's various divisions. Hence, candidates for tenure and promotion from one division are evaluated by a committee from all divisions. Such an arrangement serves as a check and balance to insure that consistent standards are applied across the college. Many other institutions provide for an evaluation by peers external to the institution to provide such a check. At Seaver, the only case for which such external evaluation is normally sought is for the rank of Distinguished Professor.

RTP committee members, therefore, have a responsibility to view a particular candidate's case in the light of other cases across the College. This is an additional perspective that may not be shared by the divisional peers or even the divisional chair. As a rule, the committee places great weight on the file assembled by the candidate, but it must also rely on the recommendations of the designated peers and the chair to asses the significance of the items in the file. It occasionally happens that the recommendation of the committee is not consistent with the recommendation of the division and its chair. In most of these contrary cases, the division's recommendation is positive, while the committee's recommendation is negative.

How can the committee go against the recommendation of the division and its chair?

It is the job of the committee to apply the standards as uniformly as humanly possible across the College. No single individual has access to all the information the committee has on an individual case, much less the information on comparable cases from other divisions. As difficult as it may be, the committee is sometimes called to make such contrary decisions. To do otherwise by simply passing along to the administration the recommendations from the candidate's division would be to abrogate the committee's responsibility and vest its recommending power to the divisions.

It is my personal opinion that contrary recommendations have occurred more frequently in the past than they should. The committee, the chairs, and the dean of faculty need to work more closely to consult with potential candidates on the advisability of applying for promotion.

Tenure versus full professor

The RTP handbook states:
In addition to the requirements for Associate Professor, appointment to this rank requires an excellent record of teaching, service, and scholarly or creative production of recognized merit, and good promise that such will continue in the future. ... The rank of Professor is not granted as a matter of course, even to faculty members with tenure, but only after careful evaluation demonstrates that the faculty member possesses the qualifications listed above.

There is a culture at Seaver College that is not shared by most other institutions of higher learning. It is the "full professor entitlement" culture. It notes that Seaver College considers the teaching component to be weighted double compared to the scholarly activity and the service components, and so anyone who is a very good teacher deserves to be promoted eventually to full professor.

Most entitlements once established are difficult to disestablish. The handbook is clear on the fact that full professor is not to be granted as a matter of course. The committee must interpret this requirement in application to specific cases. There will always be disagreement on interpretation and application to specific cases, but the principle enunciated by the handbook is a sound principle that calls us to value the rank of full professor perhaps more highly than we have in the past.

How can the committee deny this candidate full professor after all the years he/she has been teaching?

The handbook has no provision for years of service or age of the candidate as a criteria for full professor.

To deny people the rank of full professor will make them demoralized and bitter.

This argument asks the committee to consider the feelings of the candidate in making its decision. As members of an institution that professes Christian principles in its mission statement, we must always be sensitive to the feelings of others. I have personally struggled with many cases in which the committee made negative recommendations because I knew that the decision would be painful to receive. Ultimately, however, the responsibility for feeling demoralized and/or bitter lies not with the committee but with the candidate. It is the personal choice of the candidate to make what he/she will of such decisions. The committee must trust in the character of the individual candidate to take its decision, whether a positive recommendation or negative, and use it for further growth. Trusting in the character of the candidate, whether that trust is warranted or not, is the most valuable personal lesson that I have learned from serving on this committee.

To deny this candidate the rank of full professor will cause him/her to leave Seaver College.

A candidate's potential reaction to a decision is not listed in the handbook as a criteria for assessment.

To deny this candidate the rank of full professor would be cruel.

We need to become comfortable with the fact that being an associate professor with tenure at Seaver College is not a bad state in which to be.

Standards versus fairness

The fairness issue is one of the most difficult with which the committee must grapple. The problem is three-fold. First, as standards increase there will inevitably be some professors who were promoted to a rank under old standards who would not be promoted to that rank under current standards. Second, the committee is composed of human beings who are not capable of infinite wisdom in making their decisions. Third, as membership of the committee changes so does the philosophy of the group. Consistency suffers for all these reasons.

I have no solutions for any of these three causes of inconsistency and the resulting unfairness. Our system of assessment is like the political system of democracy. It has its flaws, but it is better than most of the alternatives.

But this candidate was told that he/she could be promoted to abc if he/she simply did xyz.

The committee has a difficult time deciding cases where candidates have been placed in a tenure track position and have been led to believe that promotion through the ranks would be forthcoming by accomplishing certain tasks that do not now warrant such promotion. Although it is tempting to accommodate such cases by rendering positive decisions such a policy would open up a host of other problems. One problem is the resulting unfairness to others who are held back while achieving the same level of performance. Another is the resulting power that is vested in the individual who so informed the candidate. Other than a written agreement between the candidate and the university that can be evaluated by the committee or placement on a special track to accommodate special circumstances (which has been established in some disciplines), the committee has no choice but to hold all its candidates to the same standard as best it can.

I hope that this essay will serve to further our fruitful discussions on the committee and throughout the Seaver College community as well.

Stan Warford, Chair
Rank, Tenure, and Promotion Committee
December, 1995

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