Dear Lost and Confused

Dear Ms. Scholar, This year’s promotion results are better than last year’s, but they’re still not good. People ranked high for promotion were skipped, while people who were much lower on the rankings weren’t. While I’m happy for everyone who was promoted, how do people going up for promotion prepare? What can I do? — Lost and Confused

Ms. Scholar at work.

Ms. Scholar at work.

Dear Lost and Confused, Ms. Scholar understands your feelings of confusion and hopelessness and feels much the same way. From Ms. Scholar’s perspective, administration is attempting to create a sea change in the university climate, without sufficient attention to guidelines outlined in our collective bargaining agreement (CBA). With such contradictions between the rankings made by the Promotion Committee and the final list of promotions awarded by administration, it is unclear what the current rules are or how faculty can become promoted.

This is an issue that affects all of us: those of us who have been promoted; those who have not yet been promoted (or even hired); staff, faculty, and management in positions that do not use our process of promotion; our students; and our community. Why?

  1. The rules seem to be changing without modifying the CBA. Rather than attempting to create a promotion process that is fair, transparent, and meets the needs of all parties, management appears to be rejecting the current rules and hoping that the grievance process goes their way. Any time that management flagrantly ignores a union contract, we all should be concerned.
  2. Some faculty will likely give up if they believe that they cannot be promoted. This type of response hurts that particular faculty member, but it also hurts the department and university. We want and need active and engaged faculty with strong morale.
  3. Departments are likely to have more difficulty attracting and retaining strong faculty. Although some have argued that the job market is a buyer’s market, that is not Ms. Scholar’s perception. New faculty will look for departments and universities that are stable, supportive, and hold values matching their own.
  4. The current climate may undermine the very acts of writing and publishing that management apparently wants to foster. Some faculty may be committed to staying and working here, yet have heard, “You’re not good enough. No one’s good enough. No one will ever be good enough.” It is more difficult to produce good work under such conditions.
  5. An organization is only as healthy as its base. Faculty and staff morale is essential to a strong institution. Strong leaders at universities work to foster and further develop their faculty and staff, especially those new to the university. When they fail to do so, that university will develop root rot and fall over.

When research is truly valued, faculty are given both money and release time to support their research efforts. Where is the support for our labs? Our research? For travel? Where are the sabbaticals? If our administrators are truly trying to create and foster a stronger culture of scholarship, they would tell us when we do well, set reasonable expectations, provide financial support and release time for research, and clearly communicate their expectations for promotion.

What should you do? I assume you entered your field because the skills and tasks associated with completing a doctorate are important to you. Perhaps your work provides you with a sense of meaning and purpose. Research, publish, sit on committees, teach well because these activities are important to you. Be strategic in your choices, making sure that you spend your time doing things that you enjoy, that offer a feeling of accomplishment, and that engage your interest and satisfy you. Perhaps naively, Ms. Scholar believes that when you do your job well, the rewards will follow (although perhaps not until this set of administrators moves on to greener pastures). Even if this belief in rewards following good work is a naive perception, this is the healthiest way to approach our careers and the difficult process of promotion.

Consider paying attention to the types of activities that the administration says it rewards (i.e., research and publication). However, because the current message is unclear, with different expectations communicated by management and the CBA, Ms. Scholar believes that you should make your research a priority (management’s goals), but also continue to teach well and serve your department and university effectively. Ms. Scholar recognizes that this is not comforting advice, but under such circumstances, comfort is hard to come by.

Finally, as Ms. Scholar always suggests, surround yourself with a community that supports you and your professional development. Develop a group of colleagues in your department, within the university, or across the country with whom you can collaborate and refine your research ideas and writing. Read regularly in your field. If there are research brown bags in your discipline, attend them and contribute; if there aren’t, get them going. Go to professional meetings and get involved. Become involved in Partners and other groups supporting your development as a teacher. These activities will get you through harder times, but also help you meet your professional goals. Ms. Scholar believes we can and will get through this. — Ms. Scholar

If you have questions regarding teaching, student/faculty issues, or other comments/suggestions, please write to: Ms. Scholar c/o

This entry was posted in Professional development, State of the university and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dear Lost and Confused

  1. Dr. Uraina N. Pack says:

    Dear Ms. Scholar,
    It seems appropriate that the issues of racism and sexism should enter the conversation about the resistance to faculty promotion. For the third time, African American faculty have not been promoted. This failure to reward and recognize the work of African American faculty speaks to the very heart of the entrenched resistance to diversity and inclusion within our society. Our African American faculty can demonstrate a strong work ethic and qualifications through consistent participation in publishing, professional development, and university and departmental service, yet they are clearly undervalued. The question I have is: What can other faculty do to offer support when the administration fails to uphold its stated diversity goals?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jslattery22 says:

      Uraina, Many of us have been concerned about the disproportional hit that African American and GLBTQ faculty took under threats of retrenchment. As I have known some, but not others of the faculty who were up for promotion and were/were not promoted, it’s been harder for me to see the pattern. Maybe the first thing we can do is identify this pattern? We can also support our African American colleagues–and all our colleagues–in the process toward promotion. Any other suggestions? Jeanne


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