Thursday, May 15, 2014
Confidentiality or not in Promotion and Tenure
> I am told that a number of universities make reference letters (suitably redacted for identification) and votes and perhaps committee memos available to the candidate before the dossier is sent to the central administration. Berkeley and Irvine were mentioned, and I once heard Buffalo. Any private institutions?
This is what I have received so far. No privates, so far, except for my own university. If there is more, I will send it later. What strikes me is that strong universities, here public, seem to be able to make decisions with great transparency—whether that is because they initially appoint only terrific candidates or … is not clear to me.
By the way, I am told that lots gets informally leaked at various institutions, but I do not know if this is really the case. What seems crucial is that any dissent or support needs to be expressed at the faculty meeting when a case is discussed. Otherwise, quite surprising votes may occur. Keep in mind that deans or chairs cannot discern reasons for negative votes if they have not been expressed at the meeting. Surely, private letters by the faculty to the dean or the provost are permitted and in some institutions are required. So it is not so simple.
At Ohio State, the candidate has the right to review materials at any point in the process after the unit level P&T committee has completed its initial review. Names are not redacted, so the candidate can view the full letters written by the external reviewers. External reviewers are told when invited to write that their letters are subject to the Ohio Open Records Act. The candidate has response periods at each step of the process, after unit vote, after unit head’s letter, after College P&T committee/Dean’s review, after University P&T review.
As the Ohio Open Records Act applies across the state then the same would apply at other Ohio universities.
U of S Florida
Our university does this, and indeed the reference letters are not anonymous. I had once heard that this stems from the nature of Florida’s Sunshine laws, but honestly I have no idea if that is the reason. Some feel that this compromises the reliability of the external letters, as writers may be either more reluctant to participate at all, or if they do write, more reluctant to share unfavorable views of the tenure candidate.
U of California
All University of California campuses make the full department letter, campus-wide committee recommendations and redacted outside letters available to the candidate. This isn't just for tenure, but for any promotion or merit review.
In the course of the promotion process, the candidate will automatically receive copies of the letters of assessment by the Chair, Dean, Provost and by any other administrative officers who may have written at each level of the review, including the report of the Chair of the President’s Review Board. These letters should be copied to the candidate at the time they are written, and they must have all references to the identity of the author of confidential material expunged from them.
The candidate may have access to the non-confidential parts of the dossier (i.e., Part I), including letters written by external and internal evaluators who have given prior approval in writing.
Also, I recall a ‘last look’, which I cannot find in the written guidelines (but it is mentioned on slide 5 in the attachment). Candidates for promotion are invited for a ‘last look’ at the dossier before it reaches the president. The dossier includes letters summarizing action at the department, school, PRB, and provost level. The ‘last look’ is for a specified period of time (perhaps 10 days) and must happen in the provost’s office. Candidates may view the entire dossier, with names redacted where external evaluators have requested it. After this ‘last look’ period, the dossier advances to the president and then the chancellor. A candidate may voluntarily waive his or her right to the ‘last look’, and then the dossier may move faster to the next level.
In both the public research I's where I have taught, the committee letter (and vote count), the chair letter and the dean letter are available to the candidate prior to their being sent up. The candidate has the right to respond to those letters in writing as they are submitted through the chain. The candidate may waive his/her right to see the referee letters and most times they do, but if they don't, they see them (not redacted). The referees are informed of the waiver/not.
York U, Tronto
That is what we do here. The candidate sees the entire file with only the identification of the letter writers redacted. The candidate has something like 15 days to respond, if they want. After that, the file goes to the Dean for comment, then to the Senate T&P, and then to the President. The Dean can make a different recommendation than the committee, but cannot turn back the file. The Senate committee can, as can the President. Appeals are also possible and sometimes successful.
Not here at Morgan. Even the names of who is in the committee would not announced till the committee was formed. Completely in camera.
University of Washington
I don't believe that UW makes letters available, however when I was serving on the Faculty Senate in 2013 we passed changes to the Faculty Code that require an additional disclosure to the tenure candidate, after the faculty council and the dean have made their recommendations, and before the dossier makes its way to the provost and the president. At UW Tacoma (where I am), the "faculty council" is the campus P&T committee and the "dean" is the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and/or the Chancellor (not sure which, perhaps I should find out as I am entering the chute tomorrow, gulp).
In the past, candidates were only informed of the vote of their faculty unit (according to the code), and left to surmise the outcome of subsequent steps, although I understand that there was some variation across different units and colleges and often informal reports were shared. Part of the rationale for the change, as I understood it, was to standardize practice throughout the university, reduce additional and unwarranted anxiety, or in the opposite case, provide the candidate with an opportunity to respond in writing to an unfavorable recommendation.
Portland State University
At Portland State University, the faculty member can see the whole package, including letters (not redacted) and memos, after the Dean's decision, before it goes to the Provost. The referees are informed that their letters will be seen by the faculty member when they are invited to be a referee.
At the University of Toronto it is all confidential. Letters from externals, discussion, votes. The Chair of the tenure committee must summarize fairly the main points and thrust of the external review letters, research reading committee and teaching committee reports, in a letter to the candidate and to the tenure committee. That letter is the only part of the dossier that the candidate sees. The candidate has an opportunity to rebut that letter of summary. The candidate is not informed of the identity of any of the referees, but has the right to object to particular members of the tenure review committee.
I do not believe that honest letters of evidence would be possible if the writers thought that the candidate would see them. Even now we are much more likely to see faint praise than real critique.
Candidates see nothing, and faculty see the committee report, but not the dean’s letter nor any vote totals. Dean can decide not to advance the candidate, and if the faculty vote concurs, it won’t be advanced.
The importance of confidentiality during promotion and tenure proceedings is so important I nearly went to jail for refusing to testify in court when asked by counsel about the vote of a tenure committee on which I served. The judge said I had to answer because there is no confidentiality in the proceedings, but the attorney for the plaintiff, rephrased the question in such a way that could answer it and not reveal my vote or the vote of the committee.
MK: This point is well taken at my university. But clearly some very strong universities seem to find it ok or at least they are able to make decisions without such confidentiality. (My secret is that I forget the contents of a dossier and any votes (so many dossiers, so little time..., as they say), so I could not be a source of information--although once I got a free lunch since someone and their mentor thought they could squeeze it out of me.)
Hence, what I am looking for is evidence that tenure and promotion decisionmaking, in terms of judging the quality of candidates, is helped or hurt by confidentiality.
I am told that I assume too much good will in the world. I have seen enough nonsense that incompetence would explain most stuff. Moreover, those who would like to do ill, seem to leave their fingerprints and pawprints on everything. They write patently unfair reports, and they make claims not supported by the evidence.
I had a friend who would be very good at leaving no fingerprints, and also had a long memory and more than enough patience. There are few such in my experience. Most dangerous folks are klutzes, their shenanigans revealed by legal inquiry. Of course, they do harm. Lots. But they are in effect bullies, who try to moon you. This is not the best position for a defense.