The Other Ways that Faculty Evaluation Rubrics Help

If created, are rubrics helpful to pre-tenure faculty?  Are they helpful to tenured faculty making the evaluations?

At one level, the benefits of faculty evaluation rubrics are obvious.  They provide some level of guidance for pre-tenure faculty.

But, through our initial process of drafting, revising, and approving a set of rubrics, there were some unexpected benefits.  I provide a brief summary of some of my observations below:

A measure of the degree of consensus

As I noted in my prior post, some form of consensus has to be reached eventually when tenured faculty vote on promotion and tenure.   If nothing else, working on rubrics ahead of time helps the tenured faculty see just how far apart they are on the standards for what it may take to get tenure in the department.   It helps senior faculty see the ‘elephant in the room’; unless they forge a consensus, they are putting junior faculty at risk.  There may be a majority of faculty who are content with that level of ambiguity and angst.  If so, it at least lets a prospective assistant professor know the prevailing we-know-tenure-when-we-see-it approach coming into the position.

If we are going to have arguments over standards

It is better to have disagreements over standards when the stakes are less personal.   In academic settings, we can be very engaged and highly agitated over debates on department standards for faculty performance.  These are seldom easy discussions.   But, they are exacerbated when they have to take place in a context where it is clear that the decision is both about standards and whether or not a young faculty member is awarded promotion and tenure.

Identifying and reinforcing our common core

Sociology, like most disciplines, encompasses diverse substantive specializations and methodologies.   In the day-to-day operations of a academic department it is relatively common to be focusing upon differences in our emphases and approaches.  The discussion of faculty evaluation rubrics helped focus the faculty of our common disciplinary tie and, regardless of variation in substance and method, that we shared some common core of standards for evaluation of scholarship.

Faculty recruitment

The evaluation rubrics have been embraced by our junior faculty more than I had imagined.  As we moved to new hires in our program after establishing the rubrics, the junior faculty have encouraged us to use them in recruiting.  Prospective applicants routinely inquire about the rubrics and comment that they appreciate having some broad notion of how the department defines scholarship expectations for junior faculty.  I have no data on this, but I do think it influences decisions on where to apply for positions – at least among relatively equally rated departments.

Motivation for senior scholars

The elaboration of evaluation rubrics for assistant professors also helps set a foundation of expectations for senior scholars, particularly those who are not yet fully promoted.  I left my chair position prior to being able to complete a parallel set of senior faculty evaluation rubrics.  However, the next department chair has taken on the tasks of both updating the first draft of pre-tenure evaluation rubrics and rubrics for tenured faculty.

OK, so this last one may not be as much of a benefit for faculty in general, but …

As a department chair, I found great benefit in having the transparency of faculty evaluation rubrics.  In contentious promotion and tenure cases, they provide a common foundation from where the assessment discussion/disagreement is initiated.   They also provide a base for annual merit evaluations.   Clearly, annual salary increases – one of the more contentious discussions with faculty – reflect more than department merit assessment (e.g., compression, correcting inequities, counter offers).  But, having a transparent set of base evaluation criteria tends to move the conversation from one of ‘you are biased’ to one of how achievements have matched criteria.

Of course, there are challenges for faculty evaluation rubrics that go beyond the challenge of forging the consensus and updating them over time.   Next time, I will look at this question:

Are there some circumstances in which development of pre-tenure rubrics work to the disadvantage of departments?



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