To align faculty and institutional priorities, revisit promotion and tenure criteria

3 often overlooked metrics that universities should track

By Benjamin Smith

Traditional metrics for evaluating faculty fail to encapsulate the full range of faculty activity. They excel at measuring outputs that indicate disciplinary excellence—such as grant dollars awarded or articles published—but overlook work that does not ‘count,’ such as grants applied for unsuccessfully or community engagement. If university leaders lack information about how faculty arrive at their annual output, then they won’t be able to provide strategic guidance about how faculty might shift their effort to optimize or adjust output based on institutional priorities.

In our research study, Academic Vital Signs, EAB identified three metrics that institutions should track in order to incentivize the right behaviors for faculty and to provide administrators with the information they need to make fully informed choices.

1. Holistic outputs

Traditional promotion and tenure evaluation criteria discourage faculty from projects that resist straightforward categorization, like multidisciplinary or engaged research. Instead, universities should measure and evaluate holistic research outputs, including non-traditional faculty work.

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Binghamton University (SUNY), for example, rewards faculty for “contributions to mission”—research activities that might not count towards tenure at other universities, such as creative compositions, exhibitions, performances, and book editing.

Plymouth State University encourages holistic faculty output by measuring scholarship of engagement—“linking theory and practice in collaboration with community stakeholders to solve pressing social, civic, or ethical problems”—and scholarship of integration—"making connections across disciplines and advancing knowledge through synthesis.”

Measuring holistic outputs helps attract progressive scholars who want assurance that their cross-disciplinary work will help them get promoted. And a weightier emphasis on institutional service incentivizes faculty to participate in institutional strategy and goals.

2. Effort metrics

When institutional leaders measure a department’s research productivity, they often focus exclusively on output—the total dollar value of grant money awarded annually, for example.

What is often overlooked, however, is the number, type, and quality of grant applications. By isolating and capturing these ‘research effort’ metrics (seen in the chart below), deans and chairs gain the ability to identify problems and opportunities earlier in the grant application pipeline and make data-informed recommendations to faculty about how to close funding gaps.

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3. Post-tenure activity

For newly tenured faculty, vague post-tenure evaluation criteria can obscure the promotion pathway to full professor and beyond. George Washington University’s anthropology department responded to this challenge by creating a quantitative rubric with clear and precise expectations for post-tenure evaluation and merit raises.

North Carolina State University adds flexibility for interdisciplinary scholars in the post-tenure review process. According to its policy, department chairs must “develop, in consultation with the faculty member and the coordinators of the interdisciplinary programs to which the faculty member is assigned, a written plan for conducting reviews that includes input from faculty outside the department who are familiar with the interdisciplinary focus of the faculty member.”

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