Research faculty tracks changes begin in fall 2009

For proper and uniform review of all faculty members who are on research scientist and research professor tracks, several changes in the process to evaluate their progress will be implemented Sept. 1, 2009.

"We want to ensure equity," said Stephen Forrest, vice president for research, in a Nov. 10 presentation before the Senate Assembly at the Palmer Commons Forum Hall. Forrest noted that there must be basic agreement across the University on the expected academic level and performance for research track faculty at the time of appointment and promotion.

Forrest said that in a large decentralized university it is not surprising that some variation will be needed in the interpretation of the broad University guidelines involving research faculty. But the recent introduction of the research professor track had led to significant confusion, he said. Its implementation across the campus occurred under strongly varying terms, and it led, in many instances, to the perceived devaluation of the research scientist track.

Consequently, OVPR initiated a review of the research tracks with attention to the salary and promotion history of all research faculty without a tenure-track appointment. And, during this review, "We found that for some faculty there was no clear single message given about their advancement. We decided we needed to define clear expectations" for appointment and promotion.

OVPR worked with the Office of the Provost and stakeholders across the University to formulate new title descriptions and guidelines for appointment and promotion for both the research scientist and research professor tracks.

The process to study possible changes began in January with consultations involving research associate deans from pharmacy, public health, dentistry, the medical school executive committee, Rackham, nursing, and U-M-Dearborn education and public health faculty. OVPR also worked closely with the Research Policies Committee of SACUA.

The process culminated in July and August with communication with the Board of Regents and the Office of the Provost, and reports to research associate deans.

"The new titles clearly distinguish between the two tracks on the basis of a person's record of scholarship, teaching, service and academic independence," Forrest said. "Implementing a more uniform system would help maintain the University's research reputation."

Other key changes are the introduction of a time-in-rank limit of four years for research investigators, a required school/college/unit-level review of assistant research scientists and research assistant professors after three years in rank, and a University level review of research scientists and research assistant professors after six years in rank.

Possible outcomes of reviews also are defined. They include promotion within the present track, continuation in rank, movement between tracks, movement to an appropriate staff position, or a terminal appointment.

The implementation of these new policies for existing faculty will be phased in over the next few years.

"This seems to be consistent with what we can manage," Forrest said. "We're trying to make this as reasonable as we can" without unduly burdening the current faculty in the research track.

The policy affects 691 researchers Universitywide; 301 of them are in the Medical School, Forrest said.