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.
- 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.