It did not take the new President long to demonstrate what she meant when she said at the Fall Faculty Meeting: “I promise you that there will be no soft promotions on my watch. Every level of review is expected to evaluate each case in the light of our strategic vision. We are not a research university, yet we expect all faculty to be publishing scholars. Our mission at the undergraduate level is to prepare working professionals and educated citizens; so, excellent teaching is also essential. And we must not neglect the common good; thus, we require campus service marked by positive contributions, collegiality, and initiative. In my view, teaching and service do not make up for a deficit in scholarship.”
Dean Rosalyn Klugh knew that Bill Moorland’s promotion case was not the strongest. But it was no weaker than some of the successful cases in the years immediately before the new President had arrived. Bill had been a fine Associate Dean for many years; yet, perhaps as a consequence, he didn’t have much of a publication record. The few publications he did have were as an Assistant Professor, and Dean Klugh knew that Bill’s tenure case might not have succeeded at all were it not that those few artilces he had at the time were co-authored with one of the University’s strongest researchers.
The Dean wondered what the President thought she would accomplish by denying Bill promotion to Full Professor. Now in his fifteenth year as an Associate Professor, and eleventh as Associate Dean, Bill had been working hard for the college and the University for most of his career.
Bill appealed his promotion denial and Dean Klugh studied the arguments. Not much new here, thought the Dean. The appeal had been supported, but with reservations regarding scholarship, by the department and the college’s appeal committee. Dean Klugh knew that the institution relied on the goodwill and generosity of hardworking people like Bill. Campus governance and the myriad other projects that the new President had initiated—strategic planning, accreditation review, outcomes assessment, reform of the general education program, residential learning communities—took energy. Denying promotion to good citizens like Bill Moorland would be sending the wrong message, the Dean thought. Colleagues like Bill should be the ones doing the important service jobs and they should be Full Professors too. On the other hand, the Dean felt she owed the President her support.
- Should Dean Klugh support the appeal and try to persuade the new President to grant the promotion? If so, on what grounds? If not, why not?
- Do questions like “what’s to be gained by denying this promotion?” and “what message is being sent?” apply? Or should promotion and tenure decisions be made strictly on the merits of the case, independent of consideration of potential consequences?
As the academic year was drawing to an end the new President denied Bill’s appeal. Bill was crushed and did not show up for Commencement Exercises. In fact, he missed several end-of-the-year events. A few weeks into the summer term, angry and disillusioned, Bill called the Dean on the phone to let her know that he was “done being a fool.” He is going to resign as Associate Dean and says he has put up with too much administrative nonsense and too many lazy colleagues for too long. He says, “Look at the gaggle of academic narcissists who were promoted this year. Sure, they’re all publishing, but their work doesn’t make the world a better place. None of them cares about their teaching or the students, and you can never get any of them to put in an ounce of serious effort on committee work. What claim can they possibly have to the resources of this college? The President may want to coddle them and exploit the rest of us, but I have a different plan. I’m going to teach my classes and show up for mandatory department meetings. And that’s it! You won’t see me busting my backside while those other hotshots get the promotions and the merit pay increases. Maybe I’ll do something more rewarding—like sell real estate.”
Questions, Part 2:
- You are Dean Klugh, the college’s other Associate Dean, Bill’s department Chair, or Bill’s best friend on the faculty. What do you say to Bill? How do you explain why?
- Are the promotion standards at this college in need of revision? If so, what, why, and how will the changes be brought about? If not, why not?
- How much should things like the common good, the institution’s strategic vision, the college’s national recognition, and other factors beyond teaching scholarship, and service have to do with tenure and promotion decisions?
- Is there any way to salvage or assist disillusioned colleagues like Bill so that they can again become productive, respected and fulfilled members of the college community?
At an administrative retreat the next summer, you have the opportunity to ask the President privately about the promotion denials during her first year. She says: “For one, I was simply taking seriously the standards that the University has had on the books for a long time. Second, if we are going to become a stronger University we really do have to raise our standards; people like Bill would never have been tenured at our peer institutions, and certainly not promoted. I know, I’ve served as a Dean at one and a Provost at another. It might not be a popular view with the crowd that spends their mornings reading the paper and sipping coffee in the Faculty Club, but we really aren’t ‘excellent in every way.’ Look, we’re never going to get anywhere by being self-satisfied and complacent. I feel badly that Bill happened to be one of the people whose case came up last year. But that’s on you. At last summer’s administrative retreat, in preparation for the talk I gave at the Fall Faculty Meeting, I talked with the Academic Vice President and all of you Deans about all of this. As I recall, you and the other Deans agreed then with the need to refocus on scholarship as a standard for Full Professor. You should have talked Bill out of applying, and certainly you should have discouraged him from making that embarrassing appeal. Don’t send any weak cases up this year. Okay?”
Questions, Part 3
- As Dean, what would your response would be?
- This was a fictional case. Does that change its value as a management self-instructional tool?
I am often asked why I do not tell how the academic leadership case studies actually ended in real life. The simple answer is that the cases are fictional. But the more important answer is that it does not matter. Just because a person may have handled a given case study, mine or anyone else’s, the same way as it was handled in real life, does not make that way of handling it the “right way.”
Dr. Peter Facione, Ph.D. served in public and private universities as an academic dean and provost for 21 years. He has contributed articles to the Chronical of Higher Education, Change Magazine, and Liberal Education. He is a principal of Measured Reasons LLC, an Los Angeles based critical thinking research and strategic consulting firm.