Helping Your Favourite Professor Get Tenure: Faculty Evaluations and How Students Can Contribute
story | Dion Ho | Senior Writer
Photo | Rachel Hau
For most professors, tenure is the holy grail. In Yale-NUS College, tenure-track faculty members – those with the title of “Assistant Professor” – are hired on a four-year contract. That contract may be renewed once in their third year for another three years, and at the end of six years there will be a tenure review. Faculty members who attain tenure are promoted to Associate Professor and gain a contract that lasts until they turn 65 years old. The career stability provided by a tenure contract is a major reason why it is so highly sought after. Faculty members who are not offered tenure cannot make a second attempt and have one year to seek other employment. Faculty members who are tenured in Yale-NUS College are also considered tenured in the National University of Singapore (NUS).
The other track in Yale-NUS for faculty members with teaching roles is the “Educator-track”. These faculty members carry the title of “Lecturer”. Educator-track faculty members are hired on a variety of contracts based on Yale-NUS’ teaching needs. A survey of the Yale-NUS Academic Appointments webpage shows that their contracts may or may not be renewable and typically last for a year, though two or even three-year contracts are possible. Naoko Shimazu, Associate Dean of Faculty Development, said that “lecturers on Educator-Track can apply for promotion to senior lecturer, as well as to any advertised tenure position”. However, a lecturer The Octant interviewed was unaware of any possible progression. The tenure review is a lengthy process that starts in September of a professor’s sixth year and only concludes in spring the following year. Faculty members who are considered for tenure need to compose a dossier to describe their teaching, research, and service, as well as submit a list of referees. Many stakeholders in Yale-NUS, including already tenured faculty members and senior administrative staff, will evaluate the reviewee and submit recommendations to the Appointments Committee chaired by the President of Yale-NUS. The Appointments Committee will make a recommendation to the Provost of Yale University and the Provost of NUS, and if all three affirm the reviewee, then a recommendation will be made to the governing board of Yale-NUS which will make the final decision.
For educator-track faculty members, the same three components are taken into consideration for contract renewal but with higher weightage placed on their teaching, though another major consideration is whether Yale-NUS continues to require their services. Educator-track faculty members are not required to conduct research. Nonetheless, they, alongside tenure-track and tenured faculty members, may declare their research work during their annual reviews. “Research is important for all faculty, including Educator-Track faculty”, said Ms. Shimazu.
While students do not play a direct role in either evaluative process, they can still contribute significantly. One massive contribution a student can make is to fill up the student evaluation at the end of every course. “Every line on every student evaluation is shared, and it’s read by every person on [every tenure committee],” said Joanne Roberts, Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs. Both quantitative and qualitative data from student evaluations comprise a major part of the teaching component of each tenure dossier. In addition, Ms. Roberts said that many professors cited positive feedback from students, fruitful interactions with students, or even student achievements in their narratives on their teaching and research.
For educator-track faculty members, student evaluations are central to Yale-NUS’ evaluation of their teaching. In fact, applicants to educator-track positions in Yale-NUS are asked to submit “recent student evaluations”. Applicants to tenure-track positions are asked to submit their “teaching philosophy” or “teaching evaluations”.
According to Ms. Roberts, the Teaching, Learning, and Advising Committee is currently working on having students evaluate their Capstone advisor. “[Not having students evaluate their Capstone advisor] is an oversight and we’re building [the evaluation mechanism] right now,” said Ms. Roberts, though she warns that the evaluation will likely not be anonymous.
Since a professor’s Division Director and the tenured faculty members in their division are directly involved in the tenure review, students may also share their feedback with these individuals. “If you have professors who have had a big impact on you. You can share that with their [Division Director] or share it with other tenured members of their division,” said Ms. Roberts, though she also said that unsolicited letters from students will not be allowed into the tenure dossier. The current Division Directors are Rajeev S Patke (Humanities), Stephen Pointing (Science), and Edward John Driffill (Social Science).
The Division Directors also play a central role in evaluating the educator-track faculty members in their division. In fact, all faculty members with teaching roles will receive feedback from their Division Director in each annual review. Therefore, students may also offer Division Directors feedback about educator-track faculty members. Unfortunately, there are currently few formal mechanisms for students to submit non-teaching feedback about faculty members.
According to Ms. Roberts, the senior administration had explored the possibility of soliciting feedback from alumni. Due to the low response rate and small alumni base, amongst other considerations, they decided to not require alumni feedback for tenure review.
Finally, students may also nominate faculty members for teaching awards such as the Early Career Teaching Award and the Distinguished Teaching Award. While faculty members who are eligible for the latter do not have tenure as a concern, the award comes with an additional salary bonus at the end of the year. There are many ways for students to show gratitude to the faculty members who have benefitted them immensely.
Correction: The Octant communicated with Naoko Shimazu, Associate Dean of Faculty Development, after the article was published and we have incorporated her clarifications and comments into the article.