The Full Promotion of Teaching

What one professor learned while applying for promotion with an emphasis on teaching.

—James Skidmore, Professor and Director, Waterloo Centre for German Studies

I recently applied for and received promotion to full professor. People have asked why I didn’t do this earlier, and I usually gave one of two responses. I would either say that I was under the impression that at UW, you first had to win the Nobel Prize in Physics to be promoted, or I would point out that I’ve been full of myself for years and didn’t think I needed a letter from the President of the University to tell me something I already knew.

The thing is, I’ve always been more interested in my work than in my career; fixating on “rank” was a distraction I’ve tried hard to avoid. Besides, I assumed my somewhat nonconformist academic path might prevent committees from supporting the submission. My work at universities shows a stronger-than-usual commitment to teaching and service than is the norm, and I wondered if that wouldn’t prove to be a dealbreaker.

After attending the FAUW workshop on applying for promotion, and then seeking out the advice and guidance of Lori Curtis (at the time chair of the Academic Freedom and Tenure committee) and Katie Damphouse (the AF&T and Policy officer), I was able to confirm that putting forward a promotion dossier where the emphasis would be on teaching was actually possible under Policy 77. But it’s certainly not the conventional approach, and it required some careful handling.

Thankfully, it seems to have worked. The application went through without a hitch. There were no requests for further information, no off-the-record discussions about holding off on applying, no security personnel arriving at my office to escort me off campus (though I’ve been working from home since the pandemic started, so perhaps they did come by but couldn’t find me). And since I kind of had to figure this out on my own—I didn’t know anyone who had emphasized teaching when applying for promotion—I’d like to share what I learned about the process and how I went about it. Perhaps it will prove useful to you if your situation is similar to mine, but also to anyone putting together a promotion dossier.

Before I get into the details, this Dropbox folder contains my application and supporting documentation. Included is an annotated version of my promotion statement, which will explain the reasoning behind some of the choices I made in putting that together. I’m happy to share in the spirit of collegiality, but keep in mind that doing so does push me a wee bit outside of the Skid comfort zone—I’m normally quite private on career matters.

So, here are my observations and tips (or, as the Germans say, Tipps—they always like to make words longer):

  • You’ve heard it before: get help from people whose advice you trust. In addition to approaching Lori and Katie, I also asked a couple of university colleagues to review my statement, all of whom had many years of experience with tenure and promotion committees at different levels. They provided helpful guidance and kind encouragement.
  • Writing the statement was difficult for me. I cringe at the self-absorption that is endemic in our profession, and I find boastfulness distasteful. But one of the people reviewing my statement said that it was very important to give your committees the reasons and ammunition needed to support your case. Don’t forget, each committee needs to make a case to the next committee on the food chain, so give them the facts, numbers, data, and memorable bits of information they’ll want to put in that report.
  • Speaking of facts: Policy 77 states that promotion to full professor can be attained in recognition of “an outstanding teaching record accompanied by a continuing and long-standing record of satisfactory or better scholarship and service.” So I put this information right at the top of the statement to make it clear that I was applying for promotion because my record met that definition. The rest of the statement provides the arguments to support my assertion.
  • In my statement you’ll see teaching emphasized, but I don’t hide or downplay research. I put it first, before teaching and service, in order to highlight that my research meets the requirements of being continual, long-standing, and satisfactory (or perhaps even more than satisfactory). My performance review scores back this up, but I don’t mention them—the department committee gets those from the chair.
  • I also structured the statement to emphasize my belief that the borders separating research, teaching, and service need to be more porous. I thought it important to craft a narrative that would demonstrate that in my work at Waterloo, I have attempted (succeeded?) in bringing together these disparate elements to form a more coherent whole.

Each committee needs to make a case to the next committee on the food chain, so give them the information they’ll want to put in that report.

  • If you’re familiar with George Orwell’s Animal Farm, you’ll recall that when the barnyard critters start agitating for greater rights, the pigs come up with the slogan “all animals are equal,” but later, as the pigs start dominating the successful revolution, they change the slogan to “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” And so it goes at UW: research and teaching are equal, but research is more equal than teaching. Policy 77 and the practices used to implement it underscore this. For example, even though I was taking this “alternate route” to promotion, I was still required to submit examples of research (articles, etc.), but not necessarily of teaching. The policy does allow for the inclusion of “other relevant information,” and as you can see in my statement, I included a lot of other relevant information by means of weblinks and the like—not to do so would have weakened my case. I also considered suggesting external referees not affiliated with German studies who could assess my efforts in pedagogy, but the policy—and the practice—is to get referees who can assess published work. So the referees I proposed were all German studies scholars whom I thought demonstrated more than a passing interest in teaching. In the end, I have no idea which scholars ended up passing judgement on my materials.
  • And while we’re on the subject of external referees, let me throw in an aside by stepping onto my other soapbox and decrying the unwritten but oft-mentioned requirement that some of the external referees must be profs at American universities. Talk about a colonial mindset. Profs at Canadian universities (many of whom were trained in the US anyways, myself included) aren’t good enough for judging qualifications and merit? Do you think there are tenure and promotion committees in the US who look at lists of external referees and exclaim “Wait! There are no Canadians on this list! This will not do!” But I digress……

I hope those of you interested in promotion will find the information above and in my dossier useful. If you have questions or want more information, please get in touch. I’m only too happy to help if I can.

6 thoughts on “The Full Promotion of Teaching

  1. Way to go, Professor Skidmore! Congratulations! Teaching is such a fundamental yet not fully appreciated facet of academia. I’m really glad excellence in teaching can be a cornerstone of an application for full professorship.

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  2. First off, a heartfelt congratulations to Prof. Skidmore on a well deserved promotion! I appreciate your openness about the process and your generosity in sharing your dossier.

    What follows is directed exclusively at FAUW leadership.

    As a lecturer, reading this article was absolutely devastating and infuriating. Here we have an example of a tenure-track colleague who (rightly!) earns a promotion to full professor on the basis of a strong teaching record. Consider how many lecturers on campus have such a record and yet do not have the privilege of being in a tenure-track position. For over 8 years, we have been begging for ranks and promotion paths that run in parallel with our tenure stream colleagues. With policy negotiations at some kind of standstill (it’s really not clear where things are at the moment as all we get are the vaguest emails) lecturers are yet again stuck waiting. Reading about someone with a similar portfolio as many lecturers getting to full professor is extremely bittersweet.

    So, a few questions.

    1) As I mentioned, I can think of many colleagues who would have a dossier similar to Prof. Skidmore’s with respect to research and teaching. What is FAUW’s position on research for lecturers? Is research for lecturers something that FAUW is advocating for?

    2) Based on this article, it seems that earning tenure on the basis of a strong teaching is applauded. I have heard conflicting information on FAUW’s position and would like to have it cleared up. What is FAUW’s position on tenure for lecturers?

    4) I saw a survey somewhere that said that 90% of lecturers think that research is important. How did this survey inform FAUW’s position?

    5) Speaking of surveys, when will we see the results of the latest survey on P76?

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  3. Let me also congratulate my colleague James Skidmore on his well-deserved promotion and thank him for his willingness to share his letter of application. This is a great example of sharing model documents for others to emulate and consult. Thanks Skid!

    Let me respond to some of the comments posted by the “UW lecturer” that begin:
    “What follows is directed exclusively at FAUW leadership. As a lecturer, reading this article was absolutely devastating and infuriating. … For over 8 years, we have been begging for ranks and promotion paths that run in parallel with our tenure stream colleagues.”

    Lecturers have every reason to be infuriated.

    I would suggest that Lecturers should consider *who* has been frustrating a positive outcome. For some details on the process, see the Sept 2021 Blog “A Lost Opportunity: Report from the FAUW Representatives on the Policy 76/77 Drafting Committee”; it lists some of the frustrations and obstacles to a successful outcome.

    “UW lecturer” also asks about what FAUW has been pushing for. That information is also included in the same blog post:
    1. Creation of Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream; Associate Professor, Teaching Stream; and Professor, Teaching Stream appointments (as at Toronto and McMaster).
    2. Promotion and tenure/continuing status procedures for these ranks that run in parallel with tenure and promotion in the existing professorial ranks (as at Toronto and McMaster).
    3. Language: “tenure” the preferred term, rather than “permanence” or “continuing.”
    4. Elimination of revolving-door definite-term appointments (after the fifth year, any subsequent reappointment would be a first probationary term—i.e., of a tenure-stream appointment, with subsequent renewal and tenure reviews).
    5. Elimination of two-years-less-a-day contracts (which have no benefit entitlements).
    6. Every sixth term a “non-teaching term” (NTT) with a reduction in teaching workload and a commensurate increase in professional/pedagogical duties (same expectation of duties as Toronto and McMaster, but with every sixth term a NTT rather than every third term).
    7. Sabbatical leave eligibility (as at Toronto and McMaster).
    8. Improved grant application eligibility.
    9. Improved collegial governance eligibility.
    10. Clarification of the ability to negotiate a change in assigned duties with the chair (e.g. inclusion of scholarship as an assigned duty; change of weighting for service duties, etc.).

    Regarding “research” duties, see this recent blog: “What are Pedagogical and Professional Development activities?”
    For information on the survey and where we are now, see this recent email:

    From: FAUW1 on behalf of Laura McDonald
    Sent: May 18, 2022 2:17 PM
    To: fauw2@mailman.uwaterloo.ca ; fauw1@mailman.uwaterloo.ca
    Subject: [FAUW Voters] Thank you for your feedback on policies 76 and 77
    Thank you to all of the members who answered the FAUW consultative survey on Policy 76/77 last month. We appreciate the care and attention you showed in your answers and in your comments.
    The results of the survey were very helpful to the FAUW Board in helping it to understand the preferences of members, particularly lecturers. The comments some of you left were also helpful, especially since they revealed many questions about details of the P76 process and about the substantive matters related to a possible resolution of the policy revision process.
    As a result of the survey, the board has decided on a preferred way forward for a resolution, and has presented a proposal to the administration. We hope to report to you very soon on that proposal and the response.
    The board also hopes to hold an information session in the near future.
    Lori Curtis Kate Lawson
    FAUW President FAUW Vice-President

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    1. Thanks Prof Lawson for the response. There seems to me to be a disconnect between the items you listed here and what was in the December memo (which at this point is probably not worth very much). For example, the list includes tenure and sabbaticals, but the memo does not.

      So are sabbaticals still on the table?

      I also still have concerns about tenure. What you pasted below is in direct contradiction with what we heard from the Treasurer at the GM last year. The impression I got back then was that tenure for lecturers was off the table. The Treasurer argued that “tenure” and “promotion” are basically the same thing with the only difference being that “one starts with a ‘t’ and one stars with a ‘p'”. Can you confirm that what you wrote above is the latest FAUW position? Can you also comment on how the survey results on tenure informed this position?

      I did receive the email you included from the President and the Vice-President. There is no timeline about sharing the survey results other than “in the near future”. I was hoping for a firmer date but I suppose that’s the best estimate we have.

      The email refers to a proposal that was presented to the administration. What was this proposal?

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    2. It has been a few days now and I was hoping for a reply to my questions. I know I am not the only lecturer with these concerns. Perhaps this is a busy time of year; nevertheless, I would hope that the FAUW leadership could provide some clarity. If the VP is too busy, perhaps the President or the Treasurer would be so kind as to reply?

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