Care of and Attention to Untenured Faculty

In the first year |

Protection |

Integration into the life of the department/college

Helping an untenured faculty member develop professionally: Teaching, Research/Creative Work, the Contract/Tenure Review Process

As chairs, we are responsible for watching out for all members of the department. The faculty are at the heart of any department. We should do all we can to be in touch with all members of the department, to know what they're working on and what issues they might have with regard to teaching, and to seek ways to help each person contribute to the department and to advance professionally. We should be accessible in times of trouble, and should also be sure to celebrate achievements.

Within this general area of care and concern, untenured faculty have a special place. Once you've completed a search, it's time for the long follow-through, to help your new colleague succeed in the department and in the college generally. This attention to untenured faculty is of enormous importance to the chair's role. But unlike some of the more routine tasks (like course scheduling), there are no timely reminders that come to us. Here are some things to keep in mind with regard to our responsibility towards untenured faculty.

In the first year

The first year is a crucial time of adjustment, and a new colleague will most likely need more of your attention now than at any other time. You'll want to strike a balance between two important goals: protecting a new faculty member from the onslaught of multiple demands and integrating them into the life of the department and the college.

Protection

Certain protections are built in: first-year faculty are not assigned advisees, and they are not assigned to standing committees. But there can be many other demands, demands that come to the faculty member directly, without you knowing about them, such as requests for independent studies, membership on (or even chairing) honors committees, and advisory projects or committees. Consider recommending that a first-year faculty member not take on being chair of an honors committee, and that they hold off on independent studies as well. Talk to them about how many ad hoc requests they may receive, and that you recommend caution on how often to say yes-in general, and especially during this first year.

Sometimes a new faculty member is very eager to get involved with all kinds of things on campus, and of course that is a good thing. But you can help them set priorities, and to keep at the top of the list those things most crucial for their successful establishment as a teacher, scholar, and member of the Cornell community. One way to help-since you will not necessarily know all that they commit themselves to-is to check in with them mid-year to see if they are getting overcommitted. Or, if they seem not involved enough, this is a good time to talk about other things they might be doing.

In the case where the faculty member has not yet finished the terminal degree, there is a special urgency to keep the walls of protection high and other commitments light. You don't want to nag, but do check in on their progress. According to Faculty Regulations, a terminal degree is required for tenure. The Dean will have been in communication with the faculty member about this, but it's good for you to be as well.

With regard to teaching assignments: remember the enormity of the task of multiple new preparations in the first years of full-time teaching. Give new (and untenured) faculty first choice on courses and blocks. Ask what classrooms they prefer. Whenever possible, have them teach subjects they're already familiar with. If there's the possibility of their teaching multiple offerings of one course, let them do that so they have fewer preps. (Also see page 5 above.)

All of these protections for new faculty members mean more work for others in the department. There are perhaps some departments who take the opposite approach-giving a new person the least desirable courses, blocks, and departmental tasks, with perks going to the more senior faculty. But we strongly recommend the model we've put forward here: doing all you can to help a new faculty member get off to a good start, even when it means some sacrifice on the part of more experienced faculty. This model is likely to produce gratitude from the new faculty member, which is a more productive basis for a long term relationship than the resentment that is likely to be generated if treated as the lowest person in a departmental hierarchy.

New faculty need the most protection in their first year, but do keep untenured faculty on your radar screen in the subsequent years, checking on how much they're doing beyond what seems a reasonable load (e.g., independent studies, honors projects). Of course it is important that each faculty member contribute in these areas, but untenured faculty sometimes take on too much. Help them with a reality check on how much is good to do, and when it becomes counterproductive. If the department is one in which there are many requests for supervision of independent work, it might be wise to set up a system in which independent studies require pre-approval from the chair, so that the responsibility may be shared across all members of the department.

Integration into the life of the department/college

Even while you're protecting new/untenured faculty from too many demands, you also want to be sure that they feel they are a member of the department and of the college community. You can help them by self-consciously integrating them into the various academic and social arenas of college life.

  • Introduce them to people beyond the department, people you see as potentially good resources for this particular person, both as peers and as potential mentors. Think of people with whom they may share intellectual interests, personal interests, family situations, etc.
  • Find occasions to talk about teaching, and encourage attendance at Conversations About Teaching (CAT). Encourage departmental discussion on courses taught in common. Share syllabi, assignments, exams from these and other courses. If certain courses are taught in a sequence, be sure there's discussion so the new person is fully aware of the extent of coordination needed. Invite them to observe classes taught by others in (or outside of) the department, just asking permission first. Do offer your own classes as one possibility.
  • Encourage them to present their current work on campus, perhaps as a SIG or HAIG talk (probably not in the first year, but before long).
  • Consider inviting them to sit in on one or two advising sessions, perhaps in September to see a session with a first-year student, and later, to see a session with a major advisee.
  • Socialize them into campus events. But be careful how you do this. Encourage participation, but don't apply pressure, and do make clear that no one has to attend every one of these events.
  • Have an occasional social gathering for the department (or delegate this around the department).
  • Remind them that part of your job as chair is to be an available first contact for just about anything. You can initiate them into the various offices and procedures for accomplishing all the various tasks. Encourage them to seek out anyone else in the department as well, should you not be readily available.

Helping an untenured faculty member develop professionally: Teaching, Research/Creative Work, the Contract/Tenure Review Process

The RTP criteria and review process are outlined in detail in the Faculty Handbook. This section provides suggestions related to mentoring and professional development.

Teaching

If a faculty member expresses concerns about their teaching, encourage them to find someone to talk to about it: you, others in the department, their faculty mentor, colleagues in other departments. People at other colleges can also be helpful, and a summer workshop devoted to teaching issues (away from Cornell, with people from other colleges) can be transformative. (The Office of Academic Affairs has information on such workshops.) Visiting other people's classrooms can also be helpful-to alleviate concerns, to get some fresh ideas, and/or to serve as a base for further discussion about pedagogy.

A key role of the department chair in the development of a colleague's teaching is the evaluation of their teaching; this can be one of the hardest and least fun parts of the job. What makes the position of the chair in the evaluation process especially difficult is that we are expected to do both "summative" and "formative" evaluation. "Summative" evaluation is the sort that ends up with a summary judgment as to whether or not one's teaching is strong enough to merit a contract renewal; this is the primary function of the evaluation done by the RTP Subcommittee. "Formative" evaluation, on the other hand, has as its sole intent to help a faculty member in their "formation" or development as a teacher. But department chairs are asked to go back and forth between the two. After class visits, we should be doing formative evaluation with the faculty member, but we also are using the same visits as the base for a summative evaluation for the next letter to RTP. It is not easy to juggle these two types of evaluation, or the two audiences with whom we are engaging.

Each term, chairs receive student evaluation summaries from the Office of Academic Affairs, for all members of the department. Explain this to new faculty members, and offer to discuss their evaluations at any time: an experienced eye can be especially helpful in providing perspective and noting patterns. Suggest that a faculty mentor can also be helpful in this respect.

Visiting classes is a key component of getting to know a colleague's teaching. RTP has provided a set of guidelines for class visits during reviews. Here are further suggestions for how to make the most of this element of evaluation of teaching:

  • The first year: Plan to visit sometime in the person's first year.
  • Which course/classes: Talk to the faculty member well in advance about visiting a class. Ask them for their preference for which course and which classes to attend. Plan to attend more than one class. It is almost always the case that the instructor will be very nervous on your first visit; going to a series of two or three classes will enable you to see the instructor (and students) more at ease, and will also give you a sense of how material is developed over time. If you visit only one class, it will be difficult to know how representative that one snapshot is of the person's teaching.
  • Preparing for the visit: Meet with the instructor a day or two before the visit, having asked them to make copies for you of the syllabus and any other course materials they'd like you to see. Talk with them about the course-how it's been going, if there's anything special you should know going in, if there is anything they would especially like you to look for during your visit. (For example, if the instructor is interested in discussion dynamics, you can offer to make a "map" of the students in the class, noting down how many times each contributes to discussion.)
  • During the visit: Take notes during the class so that you have a record on which you can base later discussion with the instructor. For example, you can use the right hand side of the page for a kind of running account of what went on in the class, and the left hand side of the page for comments about what occurred. These same notes can be used as a base for what you write about teaching in the letter to RTP.
  • Following up the visit: It is really important to talk with the instructor within a day or two of the visit (or the last visit in a series). Think through the feedback you'd like to give, including both things you think went well and those that didn't. Consider writing up a summary of your observation to give to the instructor; it can be difficult to take in a visitor's comments through conversation only. Begin the discussion with the instructor by asking if they have any observations to make. Were these classes pretty typical, or not?  How did the instructor feel about how things went?  If s/he is not satisfied with one or another aspect, ask about ideas they might have for making changes. When you give your feedback, frame it as your response to the class ("I statements," rather than as judgmental "you" statements. For example:
    • I got very involved in the course of discussion when you had us focus on a key passage in the text (rather than: You did a good job of focusing the discussion). Or,
    • I had a difficult time following the lecture in the section about photosynthetic organisms; I couldn't keep up with the pace of information (rather than: You went too fast in the section on photosynthetic organisms).

    Where appropriate, consider building the faculty member's confidence by noting what you might have learned about teaching by watching them. It helps convey a sense of collegiality in a situation that otherwise feels very top-down.

    If the instructor asks for your advice, do offer your thoughts. (Of course you can give unsolicited advice also, but it usually isn't as effective.)  And now that you know more about this individual's teaching, you're in an even better position to recommend other faculty they might want to talk to because of similarities in pedagogical styles or interests.

Class visits are time consuming. If you have more than one faculty member in the department who needs a visit, you may want to delegate this to another tenured member of the department. (As chair you will need to visit at some point, but not every time.)  In fact, it's good to have more than one visitor by the time the faculty member comes up for their second contract review, and perhaps visits by all the tenured members of the department by the time of the tenure review. This gives a strong basis for the departmental letter, and also protects the candidate by having multiple perspectives.

Research/creative work

Talk early on with a new faculty member about what college expectations are in this area, and encourage them also to talk to the Dean and members of RTP. They should know that the department's take on expectations is important, but that it may be somewhat different from what is considered by RTP, the Dean, and the President to be an appropriate level of professional activity. The bar is less clear than the "two books" or "ten refereed articles" before tenure that it might be at a major research university, but there is a bar.

Talk with them about developing a post-Ph.D./M.A. agenda for scholarship/creative work. Where are they going from their thesis? What are their plans for publication/performance/exhibition?  Are they thinking of moving into a new area?  Are there ways of linking up these developments with teaching in ways that might enhance both?

Emphasize the importance of the annual c.v. update: this is a faculty member's opportunity to list all that they've been doing. Advise them to maintain separate resource folders for each of the major criteria for review (teaching and advising, professional stature, commitment to liberal arts, and service), an efficient way to keep track of their work for the review narrative they will eventually need to produce.

When faculty have recent accomplishments, encourage them to make their achievements known, not only to the department (through you as chair), but also to the community, through the Cornell Faculty Newsletter and the OCC Campus Newsletter.

Encourage them to enhance professional development by networking outside the college.

Encourage them to go to at least one conference a year, even if they're not giving a paper.

Encourage them to seek funding from both internal and external sources. Talk to them about applying for faculty development money from the Dean (both for conference travel and for other research costs) when the call comes around. Encourage them to apply for outside grants or fellowships, and pass along pertinent information that comes across your desk. Faculty applying for outside funding must fill out a "Request to Pursue External Funding Form" (available online through the Office of Academic Affairs website), which sets the ball rolling; it also ensures that chairs are informed about potential complications in scheduling, should the grant include leave time. Let them know about help available from the Advancement Office for identifying funding sources, and writing and vetting proposals. Assure them that the college is very supportive when people get outside grants.

Mentoring through the contract/tenure review process

Eventually, you will need to share with the person under review the departmental letter regarding their work. (See the Faculty Handbook.) It is difficult to convey bad news, but if at all possible, we should keep the candidate's interests in mind. It will be difficult for a candidate to improve if they do not know what the department thinks are their weaknesses (in whatever area). And of course knowing what we perceive as their strengths is also very helpful.

Final caveat:

One thing that is difficult about being chair is that your relationship with junior colleagues may change when you move from being just another departmental colleague into the chair's position. Perhaps being aware that this may happen can help ease the discomfort. It might help to preface remarks with what "hat" you are wearing: colleague, chair, senior faculty member, etc.