Amy Bishop, a professor at University of Alabama Huntsville has been charged with killing colleagues at a Biology Department Meeting on 12 February 2010.

Reports describe an appalling loss of life with three professors dead: the Department Chair and two faculty members. Two faculty members and a instructor were seriously wounded. News reports allege that Dr. Bishop shot these six people during a department meeting shortly following the rejection of her application for tenure.

In many work settings, decisions regarding promotions lie with authority figures with whom candidates rarely have a personal relationship. Collegial decisions, however, place authority with the colleagues with whom candidates have personal ties. After a rejection from close colleagues, candidates feel betrayed by those from whom they expected support and defeated by those from whom they expected animosity.

Ideally, collegial systems apply professional academic standards to career evaluation. The system supports academic freedom by emphasizing the quality of academic contributions over compliance with administrative or political agendas. To the extent that the candidate for tenure is socially awkward or has a history of discord with colleagues, personal emotions may influence colleagues’ judgments about a candidate. Academic performance is multifaceted. Decisions consider evidence regarding teaching, research, and community involvement, preventing any simple, objective score. Despite efforts by responsible professionals to judge fairly, emotional reactions to other people influence thoughts and behavior.

Collegial evaluation systems are valuable in many ways. The answer is not to eliminate them but to anticipate their pitfalls. Here are three potential strategies for managing collegial evaluations.

Strategy One: Maintain a High Level of Civility

Groups responsible for collegial evaluation can take steps to promote civility throughout their work lives. Active practice in addressing disagreements that have less personal impact would provide valuable experience. CREW [link] provides an effective means of developing collegiality.

Strategy Two: Increase Transparency in the Process

When rejected on an emotionally charged and consequential issue, people generally think the worse of the process. To the extent that collegial deliberations are confidential, candidates have opportunities to attribute bad motives, misunderstandings, and personal vendettas.

Strategy Three: Reconsider Academic Career Tracks

Refusal of tenure drastically curtails an academic’s career. Although tenure provides greater job security than most occupations enjoy, refusal of tenure essentially dismisses the individual while seriously compromising chances for pursuing an academic career elsewhere.

Read more on this tragedy: New York Times report of February 13th

 

Tenure and Promotion Procedures of the University of Alabama, Huntsville

A collegial system includes the perspectives of faculty colleagues in the evaluation process. At UAH, the Department Chair oversees the process of application and evaluation of an application for tenure. The departmental process includes review by a committee that includes a subset of the faculty members in the department. The chair conveys the committee’s recommendation to a faculty-level committee that reviews the recommendation to assure a consistent application of standards across academic units. That committee sends its recommendation to the Provost, or Vice-President Academic. The authority for the ultimate decision rests with the University’s Board and implemented through the office of the Provost.


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