Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Thoughts about tenure evaluations


It is the season of pre-tenure and tenure evaluations in my college, and all faculty are encouraged to write "testimonies" for their colleagues who are up to evaluation. These testimonies are supposed to be used for the tenure and reappointment discussions, one way or another. I wrote a few as well, and now I'm wondering whether I should also send them directly to the people in question; those who are about to be evaluated.

There are some strong arguments in favor of sharing the evaluations openly and directly. Most importantly, my evaluations are actually very positive, and I think that we humans generally don't get nearly enough praise in life. It's all competition, benchmarking and impostor syndrome all the time. So maybe it would be nice for them to read something good about their teaching and research, for a change. Especially in this relatively stressful time when the meetings are about to happen that will (supposedly) decide their fate for nearest few years, and that they won't be able to attend. Also arguably it is useful to receive some real open feedback every now and then. Of course, they will receive the "evaluator's report" a few months later, but most probably not a single row of my original testimony will be quoted in this final report, or maybe half a sentence at most. Supposedly, testimonies are somehow "integrated" and "summarized" in the evaluation document by the evaluator, but not more than that.

On the other hand, one could argue that if you send nice letters directly to people, you forever wave a possibility of writing a negative letter. Or actually not writing a letter when you are torn or indifferent. Because you would not probably share a negative letter, yet if you are known as a "sharer", but don't share anything next time, the person would infer that the letter was probably negative. That's the whole reason people use secret ballot voting to begin with. Also, I am kind of concerned that some of my praise may be not to the point, as I don't quite understand some of the aspects of other people's scholar work. What if I'm praising them for things that are not actually relevant in their own eyes? Who knows, different disciplines are different... At a risk of sounding paranoid, is it possible to inadvertently "damn by praise" - not even because it is faint, but because it is somehow idiosyncratically not to the point?

For now I don't quite know what to do. Maybe I'll toss a coin really. I really like the idea of transparency and clarity, but at the same time there is a good reason tenure votes are always done by a secret ballot. I am not sure there is an ideal solution, but I am wondering what an optimal solution could be.

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