Undergraduate Course Evaluations and Tenure Clocks March 24, 2020

Dear Undergraduate Faculty Colleagues,

I write with two policy adjustments for winter and spring term, one regarding course evaluations and the other regarding the tenure clock for our junior faculty. Over the past week I have been in discussion with both the Faculty Affairs Committee and the Advisory Committee on both of these matters, while also receiving feedback from a number of you as well. After much helpful discussion, I present to you now one policy revision and one matter for a faculty vote:

  1. Course evaluations for winter and spring term 2020 are completely optional. It is up to the faculty member whether or not she or he wishes to do course evaluations. It is up to the faculty member also to determine whether or not the evaluations go into her or his file for evaluation purposes or are just for their own edification. (This does not impact faculty handbook language so we don't need to formally vote on this question.)
  2. Tenure clocks for tenure-track junior faculty may be extended by one year, at the faculty member's sole discretion. The faculty member can determine whether or not to extend the clock at any point up until June 30, 2020 in the year preceding the currently scheduled tenure year. (This should be voted on by the entire UG faculty; we would not revise the Handbook, but would retain this motion during the period of its application.)

Here's the thinking on both. All the feedback from the two committees was clear that course evaluations should not be required this winter and spring; and everybody felt the option to adjust the tenure clock also made sense. The questions lay in how much flexibility to allow in course evals and how to message that; and whether to make the extended tenure clock the default or just an easy option. This gets very murky, since in both decisions we're trying to predict which options may make some people more or less anxious, and it's really hard to get any accuracy in that. Overall the range of feedback has been so variable that no clear approach emerges.

Consequently, it seems to me the best move is to prioritize faculty autonomy. Indeed the very fact that there is so much variability in our own opinions and guidances on these 2 matters suggests that the bulk of faculty will similarly have a lot of variation in how they would like to manage their evaluations and tenure clocks. Prioritizing faculty autonomy moves in the direction of maximum flexibility and fairness for every faculty member, even if it does put the burden of choice on them. Hence the framing of the two policies, above.

In both cases, omitting course evals or extending the tenure clock will have absolutely no bearing in how the faculty member is evaluated now or in the future. The deans and department heads will take special pains to ensure this process over the years.

I have conferred with our parliamentarian and with the FAC and we all support this process. Scott Dittman will manage the electronic vote on the tenure clock decision. A "yes" vote will approve the proposal, above; and a "no" vote will reject it. My hope is that the robust discussion with our faculty-elected committees on these two issues constitutes adequate faculty discussion to enable an informed vote, given our extraordinary circumstances.

Thanks everyone. I'll be reaching out soon about the grading policy vote for winter and spring terms as well.

All best,
Marc