In addition to the diverse faculty evaluation methods used in other professions and countries, practices vary widely among colleges and universities in the United States. Three speakers at the workshop described the practices at their institutions as models that other institutions could emulate, followed by responses from two industry representatives.
Harriet Nembhard, head of the School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering at Oregon State University, studied and worked at the University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania State University before moving to Oregon State University in July 2016, and she observed that each institution has a particular culture. Reporting that the ranking of the College of Engineering at Oregon State is somewhere between 30 and 60 (she did not know its exact rank), she explained that “When you’re in that 30 to 60 range, people don’t care as much. That makes for a very different culture and room for opportunities to help shape that culture.”
The university’s College of Engineering consists of five schools and, with 7,500 undergraduate students, is the 11th largest college of engineering in the country and has the third highest percentage of women engineering faculty among US land-grant universities. Its strategic focus of excellence in robotics and advanced manufacturing has led to the development of highly regarded activities in these areas.
The college’s strategic plan calls for it to be recognized as a model of an inclusive and collaborative community. Every year at the fall retreat, Nembhard writes the following question on the board: “How can we positively impact a billion people through our engineering research, teaching, and outreach engagement?” That question helps organize both the strategic planning at the retreat and the following year’s activities.
A key element of implementing the plan is the Search Advocates initiative, established about a decade ago to help hiring committees design fair and inclusive processes. Search Advocate training is a 2-day seminar that delves into issues such as implicit bias, the legal environment, and recruiting strategies. About 15 percent of all faculty and staff at Oregon State have been through the training. Every hiring committee must have a designated Search Advocate member from outside the hiring unit and every hiring committee chair has to have completed Search Advocate training. Starting in 2019 two committee members internal to the unit will also be required to have completed the training.
Before any position announcement goes forward, the search committee, in unison with the designated Search Advocate committee member, must review it to ensure that it complies with the initiative’s intent. Since 2015 position announcements have required that candidates submit a one-page statement outlining how their experience, education, and training will help to build a more inclusive, collaborative, and diverse community. The position description, which is distinct from the position announcement, details not only the teaching, research, and service requirements of the position but also its outreach, engagement, and administration requirements. At each annual review cycle, the description is reviewed between the school head and the faculty candidate, with an opportunity to tailor the areas of responsibility associated with the position. When the candidate goes up for promotion and tenure, the position descriptions are part of that dossier, so the committee is aware of how the job has changed over time.
This overall initiative to expand thinking about faculty impact and engagement resulted in several position description templates that faculty members and the school head can use to incorporate aspects of engagement in the position. For example, engagement responsibilities might include shared systematic identification of societal needs, which then becomes part of the position description. “There’s a meeting of the minds of what that should mean and how the faculty member’s individual contributions should be assessed based on the position they’re expected to hold.” Another example might involve creative exploration and combinations of scholarship, teaching, and service. “There’s an opportunity for faculty—especially some of our millennials—to think holistically about how they want to get involved in the community and how they want to connect their careers and their livelihoods to their scholarship.”
The leaders at an institution have opportunities to shape faculty assessments. For example, as head of a school, Nembhard typically determines the composition of a candidate’s promotion and tenure committee at the midtenure point, selecting the chair from outside the main disciplinary unit. “From their third year, they know who the chair of their committee will be.” The committee chair has roles and responsibilities during the tenure process; in addition, one committee member is responsible for mentoring and professional development of the faculty member, and another is responsible for periodically assessing the research questions that drive the candidate’s work. “These sorts of things help us [in] . . . thinking about quality all the way through.”
The use of tools such as position announcements, Search Advocate, and position descriptions promotes both faculty impact and inclusion. It also opens the door for engineering societies to be active in helping build recognition and support for these broader measures of impact. Nembhard cited young tenure-track faculty who are interested in civic engagement, and noted that professional societies can help them shape their ideas of what scholarship and excellence look like in that domain. In the practice of “humanitarian engineering, for example, in underserved communities in Guatemala, how do you frame your scholarship around that work?”
Nembhard also mentioned the possibility for engineering societies to define and develop spaces that enable communities to express their concerns and priorities so that students and faculty members can address those needs.
The mission of an institution is of essential relevance in considering the development and assessment of faculty. That is certainly the case at the Olin College of Engineering, said the institution’s provost and dean of faculty, Vincent Manno. Olin has fewer than 400 students, equally divided between genders, and about 45 faculty members and
others who contribute to the program. Its internal mission is to bring about radical improvement in undergraduate engineering education; its external mission is to catalyze change beyond that which occurs at the small college in suburban Boston.
Olin has a design-centric project-based curriculum modeled on design as a people-to-people activity rather than the generation of specifications. The typical Olin student will graduate after 4 years having done about 20 team-based projects, most of them involving real-world problems. “If we expect students to develop project-based skills, we have to find a way of integrating into the curriculum some practice in those,” said Manno. In addition, particular skills are mapped across the curriculum, such as acquiring knowledge, applying analytical methods, communicating effectively, developing and applying creativity, and developing and fostering individual identity. Olin views the education it provides as creating a foundation for whatever its students go on to do.
Olin has no tenure system, in accordance with the founding precepts of the institution. However, when faculty were assessed after the first 7–8 years, the institution found itself falling back on traditional systems, which were not suited to its innovative approaches. Manno explained that, according to the traditional definition, tenure reflects professional accomplishments in teaching, research, and service at a level of excellence that will continue for the indefinite future. But, he said, there are problems with that definition: the three buckets are disconnected, they center on the individual rather than the relationship of the individual to the institution, the criteria are static rather than dynamic, and they make no mention of either personal or institutional missions.
Recognizing the problems with the traditional system, Olin undertook a 3-year user-oriented design process to develop a new system. The result was an evaluation system based on collaboration between faculty members and the administration. Olin faculty are expected to develop students who can build and sustain the college and impact life outside the college. This focus is much broader than the traditional format of research, teaching, and service, Manno said. “It’s purpose driven rather than activity centric,” he said. “It encourages synergistic activities. It’s more of a Venn diagram than a separate bucket system. . . . It’s not only what you do but how you do it.”
Olin offers reappointment and promotion for its faculty, who are on multiyear contracts. Reappointment is a forward-looking process that examines the alignment of the institution with where the individual is headed, according to Manno. For the transition from assistant to associate professor, the evaluation considers whether the person has shown the promise of excellence in leadership, and for a promotion to full professor, whether the individual has demonstrated such excellence. “What’s common across it all is that we have the expectation of innovation, risk taking, and personal reflection.” In turn, the institution has a responsibility to support the faculty member’s development by providing periodic feedback and making decisions based on evidence.
This system has undergone several rounds of iterative improvements as faculty members have been reappointed and promoted. For example, in its assessment process, Olin incorporates feedback from people who have been on faculty or student teams. This feedback is necessary but not sufficient, said Manno, because it needs to be continuous to be most useful. Now the institution is thinking about how to adopt a 360 review for faculty.
Olin’s evaluation system and modifications to it have affected not only the faculty but the institution’s narrative of itself. “It has influenced how we recruit people and how they self-select,” said Manno. “It’s more complex than a set of criteria. It’s not just about the individual. It’s about team behaviors and impacts. It’s about personal and professional growth.” Yet many questions remain, he added. Which aspects of Olin’s system can be adopted more widely in higher education? How can it be applied to nonacademic sectors? And what are the best roles of engineering societies in such a system?
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) participates in the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) program of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a research-practice partnership and network of peer institutions dedicated to improving outcomes in faculty recruitment, development, and retention.1 As John Sullivan, Jr., associate head and professor of mechanical engineering at WPI observed, the program provides actionable data that institutions can use to improve their environments, policies, and procedures.
WPI has a strong mentoring program for its up-and-coming tenure-track faculty. In their department they receive an annual written review of elements such as research, external funding, publications, teaching, and service to make sure they are successfully completing the tenure process. Each faculty member has a joint tenure committee—consisting of three mentoring faculty in the department plus five from outside the department—which takes a single vote for determining tenure. Faculty “know exactly where they stand all the time,” said Sullivan.
The institution has expanded its conception of scholarship beyond discovery to engagement, teaching and learning, and applications, and it has set up mentoring systems for faculty members who choose an alternate mode of scholarship. “You can lay out your 5- to 6-year track so that by the time you’re ready to go up for a promotion, you’ve got a solid case.”
Sullivan also briefly described the engagement of faculty with industry. WPI has three large Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers, in the areas of drying, metals processing, and integrated material design. Industry representatives meet with faculty members multiple times each year to discuss and plan for industry needs and what academia can provide. Frequently, a PhD candidate at WPI will go to work at one of the participating industries for a period and then return to WPI to finish the PhD. This “binds a lot of the academic research that we do with what industry is developing and requires in order to be successful.”
Two representatives of industry commented on some of the points made by the academic presenters in this session. Joyce Siegele is director of Productivity Management, Northside Hospital in Atlanta and a member of the Industry Advisory Board for the Institute of Industrial Engineers. Paul Stevenson is executive vice president of the McCormick Stevenson Corporation, a small engineering firm in Clearwater, Florida, that does primarily aerospace and defense product development, and senior vice president of ASME’s Student and Early Career Development Sector.
Siegele praised the desire of many faculty members to be involved with industry, and affirmed that “industry definitely wants to partner with academia, because we see all the same things” that universities do: “Just as you deal with how the students have changed, we are dealing with how they’ve changed.” For example, new employees need not only technical and engineering skills but also interpersonal and communication skills, she said, just as they do in college.
She listed the following indicators of faculty engagement with industry:
- What has been the success of recent graduates in industry?
- How many participated in internships, co-op experiences, or other interactions with industry?
- How is a college or department involved with making changes in industry or the government?
- How do programming objectives and curricula reflect that involvement?
- Do faculty serve on boards of directors or in other advisory capacities for companies?
- Are faculty involved with technology transfer, job transition services, career education, placement services, or industry scholarship programs?
- Do faculty members contribute to activities of professional societies or national advisory groups that involve industry?
Stevenson pointed out that industry deals with personnel matters similar to reappointment and promotion, although not with anything similar to tenure. “In industry, our jobs are always at risk [as] the industry and economy change.” Nevertheless, evaluating people has many similarities between the two sectors.
Industry is always concerned with the voice of customers. While higher education has many different clients, “from my perspective as a small business owner your most important clients are the students,” said Stevenson. How students are doing 5 or 10 years after graduation is one measure of success that can provide feedback for colleges and universities. Industry invests in the human capital of students through internships and other programs and in the development of the people it hires. This concept of return on investment is something that links evaluation in higher education and in industry, he said.
Stevenson also mentioned the important role of student section advisors for professional societies. A strong student section advisor can have a major impact on students, whereas frequently changing or weak advisors can cause a student section to flounder. “How do we make that more important?” he asked. “How do we ensure that that type of community outreach is as important to the instructor as it is to the university? I can’t answer that question for you but I know it’s important, and it makes a difference to the students.”
The discussion followed up on the question of student sections. Sullivan proposed that providing recognition for faculty members who serve as student section advisors could incentivize and improve this engagement. Kenneth Cunefare concurred that faculty members who serve as student section advisors need some sort of recognition to incentivize and improve these activities. For example, student section advising could become part of the teaching load for young faculty so that they can engage in these activities, be rewarded for them, and learn from them.
James Hill reported that AIChE has a large undergraduate student membership thanks to its program to provide student memberships for all undergraduate students. Individual students themselves provide leadership through their own initiative. Though not all students become full members upon graduation, they have at least been introduced to the society. Nembhard suggested that the role of student sections in higher education could be a valuable topic of scholarly research.
Anastasios Lyrintzis (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University) warned that “we should be careful not to add requirements for tenure. If we are going to add something, we need to subtract something else; it’s a zero-sum game.” However, this does not mean that every faculty member needs to do the same things. Just as different members of a baseball team do different things, so will some faculty members be great researchers, some great teachers, and some great student advisors—and different students will be attracted to different strengths in the faculty. “We need everybody to succeed and move forward, because everybody is helping each other move forward.”