Thursday, June 02, 2011

Professional Roadblock

My application for promotion was denied.

According to the letter from the president of the college, he could not nominate me to the board of trustees for promotion because of budgetary constraints.

This means that I am an assistant professor with tenure - if that make sense.

My response: sadness, anger, disappointment, disillusionment.

The process for promotion is that one puts together the application which is reviewed by the "unit personnel committee".  Our college is broken down into schools (a whole other complex explanation is needed for that into which I do not wish to engage in at the moment) that are referred to as units.  The committee makes a recommendation (strongly recommend, recommend, do not recommend) which is endorsed or not endorsed by all the faculty of the unit.  The dean of the school reviews the application, the recommendation, and the endorsement and forwards the application to an all-college personnel committee for review.  The all-college committee then makes its recommendation (with the three distinct levels as well).  The application then goes to the Provost and then to the President.  Ultimately, the President makes a decision whether to nominate the candidate to the board of trustees who usually vote to approve the President's nominations.

This long explanation is needed to try to understand where things went wrong.  My unit personnel committee strongly recommended me for promotion, which was endorsed by the unit.  The dean enthusiastically recommended me for promotion.  It was at the all-college level where my application took a nose dive.  That committee knew that there were five slots for promotion alloted by the administration.  They ranked the applications and the top five were strongly recommended, all the rest deemed qualified were just recommended.  They could also not recommend.  I was only recommended.

The President gets all the recommendations, but he is to review all the applications and make a decision taking the committee's recommendation into consideration.  He also has the ability to take other issues into consideration, such as seniority, programmatic need, and affirmative action, before making his nominations.  He can also increase (or decrease) the number of slots available.

Problems occurred in the process:

The rules state that if the all-college committee's recommendation differs from the unit level's, the chair of the unit level committee and the dean of the school are to be notified. 

Problem 1: They weren't.

Also the candidate has a right to appeal within 10 days of receiving the letter informing him/her of the committee's decision.  

Problem 2: My letter was sent to the wrong address.  The person who wrote the address on the envelope just put the wrong number on it.  Moreover, the letter did not state that I had a right to appeal.  In any case, I was not able to file an appeal.

It took some detective work to find out what my recourse was. I discovered that the President can consider appeals, so  I contacted head of the union at the college, explained the situation, and stated that I wanted to file an appeal.  She arranged for a meeting with the Provost (acting for the President who is away).  I put together my appeal and presented it to her, followed up with a written letter.

Now I wait.

How did it come to this?

In putting together my appeal, I realized how strong my application is and how strongly my unit and dean supported me.  In the three criteria under consideration, I did extremely well.

Teaching: If there is one thing I do well in this world, it is teaching.  I am one of the best and most innovative teachers on that campus.  My classes are always full, my reviews are outstanding, the anthropology minor more than doubled in size after I arrived.  I work individually with students.  I supervise internships.

Research: I have multiple research projects that are ongoing.  It is true that my publishing record is not as strong as it could be, but in the context of the college it is on par with everyone else.  I engage in innovative and applied research.

Service: I am extremely involved on campus.  I work with student clubs, I advise honor societies, I am on numerous committees.  I took a group of students to Guatemala during MY vacation.

Now, the process is completely transparent all the way up until the all-college committee.  You receive feedback and information about your application and even have a chance to make minor changes.  The all-college committee is a black box from which no information escapes.  The ranking votes are secret.  The criteria is supposed to be 40% teaching, 30% research, and 30% service to the college.

Something happened in that black box.

The message: they do not recognize my performance and efforts, they don't value what I do for the students and the college, and they don't understand what it is that I do.

What became even more irritating is that I heard that at least one person without tenure applied and was ranked above me.  Yet another messed up thing about the college is the ability to apply for promotion at any point - without any negative consequence.  I was strongly discouraged from doing so, but now I understand that I should have.  If the rumor I heard is correct, one of the people without tenure started THIS YEAR.  Given application were due in December, my question is how can the committee truly evaluate that candidate's teaching abilities and level of service after one semester?  How productive could he (I heard it was a he) have been in those four months?

In any case, I am irritated at the black box and the people who operated in it.  I am also irritated at the Provost and the President who just rubber stamped the recommendations from the committee.  I am more irritated that they held firmly to the five slots for promotion.  I have come to learn that 7 people were recommended in total: 5 strongly and 2 just recommended.  They could have just as easily added to more promotions.  What is the cost to the college relative to its overall expenses?  Is alienating faculty really worth that much?

I met with my dean yesterday.  I had been somewhat irritated with him for not being more assertive and pushing my case with the administration.  He told me he was shocked and was left feeling somewhat naive from this.  I came to see that he does recognize my efforts and my contributions.  In ending, he stated that he hoped that this situation has not soured me towards to college.

My response was that unfortunately it has.  I do feel a strong camaraderie towards the faculty in my unit and the colleagues in my department who have been extremely supportive.  However, the other faculty and the administration have led me to feel like there is a lack of recognition of what I do and who I am.  The college is moving away from the liberal arts and its stated mission of providing an international, intercultural, interdisciplinary, and experiential education.  The professional programs are being expanded: business, communications, nursing - at the expense of the humanities and interdisciplinary social sciences.

Moreover, I am left to feel that institutional racism is alive and well.  Who knows whether my last name, my research areas of migration and Latinos, my activism influenced the ranking?  It could have. It might have.  It still happens.  What is clearer, though, is that my role as a Mexican/Latino scholar and educator is not being recognized.  The fact that I mentor and advise Latino (and other students from under-represented groups), that I serve as a role model for them, and that I bring a different perspective to the classroom and to the college means nothing to them.  So while I am sure they are quick to espouse that they think affirmative action is probably a good thing, they do not understand what that means.  It is not promoting me because I am Mexican, but recognizing that as a Mexican I make unique contributions to the college that need to be recognized 

There is a lot that needs to be fixed at my institution.  Once this is over it will be on my agenda to at least try to address it - it may be beyond fixing.  I have no right to complain, though, if I do not try.

But for now, I wait - and hope that my appeal is heard and acted on.


Sherri said...

One thing abundantly clear to me from watching my husband's last 3 years on the academia hook is that politics in academia is alive, well, and still Byzantine. Those who make decisions are often looking top-down instead of bottom-up -- that is, they are at a long remove from what actually is happening in the classroom with the students. They are in a more rarefied level, and their responses are often accordingly trippy.

Hang in there!

Patricia Elizabeth said...

:-( I hope that you don't have to wait to long to hear back and that they recognize all your hard work and dedication.

la rebelde said...

I'm sorry you are going through this. One of the things that I have found extremely frustrating about academia is that certain (most?) parts of the process of degree-granting, job candidacy, and tenure/promotion are not transparent. They should be. If we were in other industries, we would be able to read recommendation letters from our file, for example. Too many times profes of color get denied without explanation. This is not okay! And don't even get me started on the hypocrisy of it all.

I hope that writing about it has been helpful for you. Maybe one day I will be courageous enough to blog my story too. I'll be sending good vibes for the appeal. Un abrazo.

cindylu said...

wow, xolo. sorry the administration isn't recognizing all you do and hope your appeal does go through.

i've been coding transcripts from interviews with science faculty (some were adjunct, some not). i think we went to 8 institutions, all different types from R1s to liberal arts. anyway, one of the things coming across from faculty at a liberal arts school yesterday was about the institutional shift. at that school, the primary criteria for promotion and tenure was based on teaching. there's been a shift more recently and original research is now getting more attention. is your school going through anything like that? or the shift more with the pre-professional programs?