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Thursday, Feb. 24th 2022

FACULTY PROMOTION ALERT: YOU ARE BEING GRADED ON “COLLEGIALITY”

     For most of the history of college and university promotion and tenure practices, eligible non-tenured faculty could expect that by year 6 or 7 that they would be able to apply for promotion from assistant professor to associate professor and be awarded tenure, a recognition of some more permanent rights as an employee and an expectation of permanent employment, subject to adherence to university rules and budget crises.

     American schoolchildren were traditionally expected to achieve proficiency in reading, writing and “rithmetic” as the big three yardsticks of academic success. American college and university faculty have traditionally been judged on the Big Three: Teaching, Scholarship and Service (to the University). In recent years more and more colleges and universities have added a 4th criterion: Collegiality. Justice Potter Stewart of the U.S. Supreme Court, in commenting on how to define pornography stated that he perhaps could not intelligibly define what is pornography but “I know it when I see it.”

     American jurisprudence seemed to accept his pithy statement as a recognition that deeming material pornographic is instinctive to an experienced judge. Deeming conduct noncollegial may not be instinctive to university department heads, deans or promotion committee members. Those kind of judgments are very susceptible to bias, personal allegiances, university politics and a host of hard to measure subjective opinions and conclusions.

     In 2016, the American Asssociation of University Professors, through their Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, issued a revised statement about this 4th criterion of Collegiality and concluded that “we view this development as highly unfortunate, and we believe that it should be discouraged. The Committee explained its concerns that invoking “collegiality” could threaten academic freedom and suppress healthy debate and disagreement where an excessive deference to administrative or faculty decisions is not in the public interest. The Committee argued that criticism and opposition in faculty governance and administration of programs does not necessarily conflict with collegiality. See ON COLLEGIALITY AS A CRITERION FOR FACULTY EVALUATION (2016 REVISION)

     The danger in allowing a failing grade in collegiality to scuttle an application for promotion and tenure is to elevate the clubby “get along to go along” dynamic as more important than the prior tripartite factors of teaching, scholarship and service to the university. Public colleges and universities have a Due Process legal obligation to avoid decisions damaging or destroying an academic’s career through the use of arbitrary and capricious standards applied to promotion and tenure processes. There is also a growing recognition that for women, the label of being noncollegial is code for being too forceful or not sufficiently deferential to male colleagues.  For more information on these issues, contact Clifford Cohen or Andrew Duncan.


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