The University Record, November 1, 1999

Provost briefs Assembly members on post-retreat activities

Editor’s Note: Reports of the four working groups appointed by Provost Nancy Cantor are on-line at www.umich.edu/~provost/docuspubs.htm.


By Jane R. Elgass

Provost Nancy Cantor updated members of Senate Assembly Oct. 25 on activities that have taken place since last fall’s “The Future of the Professoriate” retreat, which culminated in the appointment of four working groups. The working groups were asked to further examine issues raised at the retreat and to recommend action steps that might be taken to address those issues, both immediately and over the long term.

Cantor noted that issues raised at the retreat touch on issues that many campus committees are dealing with, and go to such core questions as who we are as an institution, what we want to accomplish and how what we do is changing. Discussion of these issues, she indicated, always raises tensions, but that is normal in an institution that seeks to respond to changes while preserving a sense of its core identity. “We are always trying to find a balance.”

The working groups appointed by Cantor were each co-chaired by a dean and a member of the faculty and included at least one member of the Academic Affairs Advisory Council. They focused on interdisciplinarity; teaching, research and practice; non-tenure track instructional faculty; and the role of research scientists.

Some of the groups’ work was parallel to that of groups appointed last spring in preparation for the University’s re-accreditation by the North Central Association, slated to take place in early March. While the work of the re-accreditation groups is focusing on interdisciplinary, collaborative and integrative work, the issues they are examining are similar to those of the retreat working groups. The reports of the re-accreditation groups are expected to be available on-line within a month.

Interdisciplinarity

While joint appointments are “one of the best things about the University, one of its great assets,” they also can create a burden, leading to a “new math in which .5+ .5 = 2. This is a bottom line issue,” Cantor noted, “especially for junior faculty, in whom rests the future health of the University.”

The working group has called for the development of some guidelines that would be recognized “at least informally” by each school and college. Cantor is asking the associate provost/associate deans group to collect best practices here and at other institutions, and to come up with some guidelines.

“This will at least get things on the table,” Cantor noted, “and raise the level of consciousness. They [the guidelines] can’t be legislated, but can help us do a better job of making and evaluating joint appointments.”

With respect to evaluations, the group recommended that first-level reviews of those with joint appointments include an ad hoc committee member, and that this practice could be extended to third-year and tenure reviews. Cantor said she has talked with the deans about this approach and that in general they support the concept.

Under the budget model, indirect cost recovery goes to the unit that receives the funding, even though a second unit may bear some expenses. The Office of the Vice President for Research is working on a proposal that would protect the originating unit but also see some split of the funds. “People and units may be more inclined to undertake interdisciplinary work under such an arrangement,” Cantor noted.

Integration of teaching, research and practice

Also known as “doing it all,” Cantor said this issue was raised repeatedly in the retreat, and that today “we have to face the fact that the bar has been raised on everything, placing an enormous burden on faculty life.”

Solutions in seeking some sort of balance in this “triple threat” will rest with the schools and colleges, Cantor suggested. It could mean that faculty will have different areas of focus at different points in their careers, and may mean a redefinition of “service” that includes mentoring, community outreach and practice programs, not just committee work.

Cantor’s office is seeking information from peer institutions in this area too, and already has asked that promotion documents include information on mentoring activities as a means of looking more broadly at teaching portfolios.

“We need to find a hook to balance teaching and scholarship as the two are so naturally integrated,” she said.

She also is seeking to find more ways to recognize faculty for their contributions to teaching and service, “a richer program of rewards and awards. We have some but could do more,” and to do so “would signify our commitment in this area.”

Since mentoring of faculty is seen as an essential aspect of faculty development, Cantor is planning to mount a roundtable this spring, focusing on best practices already in place on campus.

What works best, the provost noted, “is lateral mentoring, in which there is as much sharing of as there is giving of wisdom.”

Also up for discussion is more flexibility in the tenure clock, which raises the broader issue of tenure processes.

Cantor noted that the Senate Assembly Tenure Committee Report has made recommendations to make the process more open and interactive, and ideas from that group, as well as the retreat working group and re-accreditation groups cover several areas:

  • Use of ad hoc committees in reviews, as noted above.

  • Candidate access to the review dossier, to instill a greater sense of fairness and openness into the process.

  • Layered reviews, which would open the possibility of review of negative decisions.

  • More effective third-year reviews, so the faculty member would know in advance of the final review those additional experiences that are deemed important.

    Role of non-tenure-track instructional faculty

    Also an important topic in the retreat, with four of nine groups addressing the issue in some manner, Cantor noted that non-tenure-track faculty play an important role in the diversity of the faculty, “but their appointment should not be seen as a systematic substitute for tenure-track appointments, which are at the core of our institutional identity.”

    The working group recommended development of a listing of the rights and responsibilities of such faculty, in accord with their role.

    The group also recommended that careful attention be paid to the numbers, keeping a balance between tenure- and non-tenure-track faculty. Cantor’s office prepares an annual report on the composition of the faculty for the deans and that report now is given to the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs each spring.

    Cantor also noted that her office is proposing amendments to the Regents’ Bylaws related to the appointment of non-tenure-track faculty “to reflect current practice. This will make explicit what currently is implicit,” she explained.

    Contributions of research faculty

    Research scientists “are a critical piece of what makes the University wonderful,” Cantor said, but policies related to their rights and responsibilities are not administered consistently across campus.

    Cantor will ask units to work with the Office of the Vice President for Research to apply these policies evenly.

    Cantor suggested that more public recognition of their role at the University would be appropriate, noting that they do play an important role in the teaching enterprise.

    She also indicated that her office is drafting a Bylaw designed to formally recognize the role of research scientist staff.

    All of these topics speak to the “delicate balance of preserving the richly contextualized and decentralized nature of the institution, yet making sure the individual does not get derailed by trying to serve too many masters, by trying to work across boundaries,” Cantor said. “We need an institutional perspective but we also must preserve the culture of the units.”