Alison Staudinger, Director of Faculty Development and Career Advancement
Although fatiguing, annual reviews are an essential way faculty exercise academic freedom and honor the good work of colleagues. However, as merit cycles shift to the spring this year, Chairs and Directors face additional challenges in adjusting workflow and managing faculty expectations.
The shortened spring 2022 review period varies by faculty appointment. Library faculty and all other faculty with 9-month appointments will report on the review window of September 1, 2021 – March 31, 2022. Twelve-month faculty will report on the period between July 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022. And law faculty reports will capture the review period of August 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022. Additional details about deadlines and unit-level processes will come from your Dean’s Office.
Here are some thoughts and resources as you approach the review process:
- Consider the purpose of the annual review, and its relation to other reviews, the faculty member’s career trajectory, and unit culture. Is this a formative assessment, meant to encourage growth, or a summative assessment requiring judgment on external criteria?
- Identify and locate the criteria by which annual reviews are conducted. Begin with the Guidelines for Appointment, Promotion & Tenure (APT document). Then, review any unit-level guidance, followed by department or programs bylaws or internal statements of criteria. As you review faculty materials, consider what “fits” into each criteria. Some chairs use rubrics or templates to gather evidence from faculty materials as a preparatory document for their review conversations and letters. As you write, ask yourself: “‘Are these statements germane to both the criteria I’m supposed to be using and the specific definitions that have been established at my institution?’” (Buller, 2012, p. 329).
- Like all good persuasive writing, good letters make claims and support them with evidence. Consider the overall “thesis” for each faculty member, and how to support it with claims aligned to specific evidence from the file. This is particularly important when analyzing weaknesses and areas for improvement, which need to be actionable and clear.
- Consider particular aspects of your field, discipline, or department that may require explanation to outside audiences—even within your academic unit. Did the faculty member contribute to an important department or program effort that may not be obviously meaningful from their annual report? Is their research or pedagogy linked to important developments in the field?
- Take a strengths- and inquiry-based approach to the review whenever possible. What is there to celebrate about the faculty member’s achievements during the past year? What did you learn about a faculty member from their work this year? When compatible with APT or other criteria, recognize effort and growth as well as excellence.
- Be clear and direct with feedback about areas of deficiency or needed growth, especially leading up to consequential reviews such as promotion or reappointment. Vague negative feedback is unhelpful.
- If you find yourself writing a similar paragraph over and over (such as a Covid-19 contextualization or critique of bias in teaching evaluations), include these statements in all reviews, and keep a folder of stock paragraphs to use in the future.
- Consider how this annual review might help the faculty member look forward as well as back, or prompt a conversation about future goals. Ask yourself what resources you can provide—or ask for—to meet these goals or address deficiencies. Consider mentoring, formal and informal, and how it might assist faculty members to reach their goals.
Want more ideas? Check out these resources:
- DU Chairs Handbook (see the section on “Annual Evaluations of Faculty and Staff” )
- University of North Carolina Center for Faculty Excellence, “Guide to Annual Faculty Annual Reviews”
- NSF ADVANCE, Annual Performance Review Toolkit: A Resource for Tenure System Faculty at Michigan State University (includes samples)
- Buller, J. L. (2012). The essential department chair: A comprehensive desk reference (Vol. 132). John Wiley & Sons.