Monday, August 13, 2007

A lot of paper....

For reasons that are a little unclear to me, my brother decided to send me this picture of his tenure package today. I am not just posting it here out of familial pride (though there's a little of that) but because it's instructive to look at the top binder: his teaching portfolio.

I think that probably everyone who comes up for tenure just about everywhere now submits a teaching portfolio. Maybe I am wrong about that, but I certainly haven't heard of a place that doesn't require one. My sense is that these portfolios quickly became a standard in the second half of the 1990s. When I arrived at Emory in 1998, someone here had just received tenure, and her teaching portfolio was remarked upon as extraordinary. Now, the ones I've seen lately all look a lot like hers. That spring, I took a faculty workshop on assembling a teaching portfolio. The person who conducted it believed that assembling teaching portfolios made college faculty better teachers. I'll leave that for others to judge.

So, what are the gems of wisdom to be gleaned from all of this? I can think of at least three:

One, save copies of all your teaching materials so that you can throw them in a binder someday. ("Size circumscribes," writes Emily Dickinson, but there's no way she could get tenure now; no publications.)

Two, professional standards are not immutable. Maybe I am wrong, but it's hard for me to believe that research scientists at Research I universities were submitting teaching portfolios like this a dozen years ago. (However, when standards change, they usually "creep" upwards; so now we present teaching portfolios and just as much research as a dozen years ago. But that doesn't mean that tenure standards couldn't change in other ways.) Of course, this means that when you come up for tenure, you will likely be judged by at least some others who did not meet the same standards that they will expect from you.

Three, you should never send your brother any picture that you do not mind seeing posted on the Internet.

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Blogger rachel said...

This is timely as there is a conversation going at Dr. Crazy's and Prffgrrl's and a few others places about teaching and tenure and how much time a person should allow for her students in the summer as opposed to dealing with "real" (which is to say, tenure facilitating) research work. The overarching tone in these discussions has emphasized the relative insignificance of teaching/time devoted to one's students to the tenure decision.

But that looks like a really big binder to me.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Michael E. said...

The valuation of teaching in tenure varies a lot (not only how much it is valued, but how it is evaluated) by institution. I can't emphasize that enough. However, I would say that one of the crucial shifts in the profession is actually an increase in the weight that teaching is being given in tenure (and hiring decisions). What happened, though, is that research standards did not decline.

Another way to put this is that I think the idea that academics (at least in the humanities) value research at the expense of teaching is something of an oversimplification, if not an outright myth in which several constituencies have motives for believing. Of course, "teaching" in many of these discussions is almost always equated with "undergraduate teaching".

I just skimmed the Reassigned Time post on the differences between faculty and grad student life. (It's so long!) But it seemed to ring true, more or less, for me.

9:55 AM  
Blogger rachel said...

Right, I thought the time differences assessment seemed persuasive. I feel like I log more service time than a lot of grad students and I also feel like coming from an MA program where students taught 70 kids a semester helps give one a sense of a bigger teaching load. So some grad programs do seem a bit closer, in terms of time commitments.

I do worry about the social networks thing. That disparity seems undeniable and unavoidable.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Michael E. said...

It absolutely does seem unavoidable. I think (and Crazy probably says this) that's why there are so many blogs by junior professors. I would be lying if I said I have any good advice about how to ameliorate that problem. I do know, though, that some situations are better than others, and I also sense that some people have a much rougher time with it than others.

There are, on the other hand, some significant upsides to having a tenure-track job.

10:35 AM  

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