Proceedings of a Workshop
Re-envisioning Promotion and Advancement for STEM Faculty
Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief
Higher education serves a critical role in helping to overcome social, economic, and environmental challenges as well as advancing innovation and creating a better life for people across the globe. As Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, noted in her opening remarks at the October 17-18, 2019, Convocation on Re-envisioning Promotion and Advancement for STEM Faculty: Aligning Incentives with Values, central to institutions are faculty who conduct research to push the boundaries of their fields; shape the educational experiences of their students; train the next generation for the workforce; and engage in activities with broad impacts on their institution, community, and society.
Faculty in science, technology, engineering, and medicine (STEM) are expected to excel in their technical work, teaching, and professional service. Their career advancement is often determined by academic peers evaluating accomplishments in these three areas. Recently, however, there is a growing concern that the evaluation of those accomplishments and traditional incentive systems are misaligned with some of the values and missions of higher education institutions, such as student learning, public engagement, and innovative research. Debates about current advancement systems also point to a body of research on the negative effects of traditional advancement criteria on the academic environment and workforce, including the influence of systemic and individual biases on the promotion and advancement of women and individuals from underrepresented populations. Together, these concerns highlight the need to examine and potentially re-envision advancement pathways for all STEM faculty.
In response to this need, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened academic leaders, scientists, engineers, medical professionals, scholars, philanthropists, and representatives from higher education associations and research funding agencies in October 2019 to discuss challenges with the current system of faculty advancement and to re-envision promotion practices. Sessions spanned several topics related to faculty promotion and advancement: the historical context and current realities of academic advancement, evaluation and assessment models for academic careers, new models for faculty advancement, and potential changes to existing advancement systems. Particular emphasis was placed on aligning faculty reward pathways to institutional and departmental missions and values.
The convocation planning committee intentionally structured the bulk of the convocation to encompass all faculty: both those in tenure- and non-tenure-track positions. While tenure is the result of promotion and advancement decisions, rather than a factor to be evaluated, the concept has a strong influence on the structure and implementation of academic incentive systems. Therefore, it was discussed as part of a breakout session, and many workshop participants mentioned it in their comments.
The two-day event was highly participatory, with several panels, three sets of breakout groups, and a facilitated plenary discussion at which participants considered next steps for re-envisioning STEM faculty advancement systems. The event was webcast, and in-person and virtual participants used interactive audience polling software, Slido, to submit questions.
Tom Rudin, director of the National Academies’ Board on Higher Education and Workforce, explained that the board chose to focus on promotion and advancement to understand its impact on student learning, public and scientist engagement, public policy conversations, and innovation in the classroom and in the lab. In her opening
remarks, Laurie Leshin, chair of the convocation planning committee and president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, called for “an evidence-based national conversation about academic advancement.” Leshin framed the goals of the convocation, stating that “we want to understand what kinds of [faculty advancement] models, experiments, and practices are happening that better reflect the components of faculty work.” Calling attention to the absence of the word “tenure” in the title, she stressed that a growing proportion of faculty are not on a traditional tenure-track and their career paths must be included in the conversations about faculty advancement. She recounted that she had faced faculty and administrative pushback at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to modifying their advancement system, as some of her colleagues were concerned that modifications would lower expectations for faculty promotion. However, Leshin emphasized that rather than “lowering the bar” for faculty promotion, they were in fact “broadening the bar”—recognizing a wider range of faculty contributions to the institution’s social, economic, and environmental missions. Many participants throughout the convocation went on to echo the concept of “broadening the bar.”
Representatives from the convocation’s sponsors provided insights on the urgency and timeliness of the event. Brooke Smith from the Kavli Foundation noted that “incentive structures maintain and uphold the scientific process, but they also have the potential to ensure that science advances in ways that are connected to and relevant to communities.” Smith described the Kavli Foundation’s interests in public engagement and convergent research1 to advance scientific understanding, noting that scientists are often not incentivized to engage in these initiatives. Robin Wright from the National Science Foundation discussed the importance of the many roles that faculty play in all aspects of education in the United States, including researching, teaching, mentoring, and collaborating. Wright emphasized that promoting and advancing faculty for success in educating students is critical because those actions improve scientific literacy and impact the STEM workers of the future. Chad English from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation placed the convocation in a broader conversation: “advancement and promotion are powerful tools for shaping and constructing our culture within which we conduct the research. They shape the way our institutions are organized.” He emphasized the need to be conscious of the fact that we operate under a social license, stressing that higher education’s legitimacy to operate is granted by society in exchange for public benefit. English pointed out that this “social license is being called into question. . . as academia is seen as perpetuating structural inequalities and having political bias in the way it functions.” Promotion and advancement is a mechanism to re-craft higher education’s relationship with society in a way that serves society more effectively.
THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT AND CURRENT REALITIES OF ACADEMIC ADVANCEMENT
The first panel sought to establish a common baseline of understanding regarding the historical and current contexts for faculty advancement. John Lombardi from the University of Massachusetts spoke about the origins of the tenure system in the United States. “Early on, tenure was principally conceived as a device to allow the recruitment of faculty who had other opportunities outside the university,” he said, and it still serves as a mechanism to “set the floor of expectations” for faculty. Promotion and tenure systems were designed to evaluate what a person has accomplished and predict what they will accomplish, respectively, and these functions have merged bureaucratically over the years.
Next, remarks by Joan Wallach Scott, from the Institute for Advanced Study, were read in absentia by Maureen Connelly, a member of the planning committee from the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine. Scott emphasized that “academic freedom is granted to scholars on the premise that knowledge is not a private but a public good, necessary for the health, wellbeing, security and prosperity of a nation.”
Janis Orlowski from the Association of American Medical Colleges discussed differences and inequities of the current faculty advancement in academic medical institutions, particularly for women and underrepresented minorities. Medical school faculty have increasing clinical responsibilities and are only offered tenure based on their academic activities, which represents a declining share of their work. As a result, there is confusion over what constitutes faculty contributions. Additionally, over the past 20 years, the number of women and underrepresented minorities who go on to have a title of associate professor or full professor, or hold a leadership position at medical colleges, has not changed substantially. Orlowski suggested that institutions may need to reexamine their advancement processes to better promote equity for all faculty in academic medicine.
Kenneth Gibbs from the National Institutes of Health discussed how promotion and advancement incentives are influenced by the current research demands on STEM faculty. He shared data demonstrating how the “ultra-competitive” funding environment in the biomedical sciences changes the career trajectories of Ph.D. scientists by prioritizing the value of research and securing research dollars for advancement. Not only does this type of funding environment potentially reduce innovative research, a growing percentage of recent biomedical Ph.D.s are leaving the
1 National Research Council. 2014. Convergence: Facilitating Transdisciplinary Integration of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
faculty career path, particularly women and people of color.1 Gibbs also noted that the emphasis on research activity expands beyond traditional research-intensive institutions to liberal arts colleges and other teaching intensive institutions as evidenced by public job postings; incumbents “are still expected to have active engagement in research.”
DISCUSSION IN THE FIRST SET OF BREAKOUT GROUPS
The first set of breakout groups identified challenges, risks, and opportunities with either maintaining or modifying faculty advancement pathways.
Some benefits of the current system of faculty advancement noted by participants included job security, research conducted for relativity low cost, and a degree of transparency about expectations for promotion. However, other participants also noted that career advancement decisions often occur in a discretionary fashion and may be influenced by the biases of the people involved in the process. Additionally, some breakout group members pointed out that there is a wide variety in how criteria are considered within the system; one noted that “it differs by institution, by discipline, by department,” and others mentioned a lack of transparency between what guidelines are stated and what guidelines are enacted.
Opportunities associated with changing the advancement system included broadening the aspects of faculty work that could be rewarded, expanding tenure time tables to allow flexibility for various research approaches and career trajectories, incentivizing and recognizing collaborations between academia and other sectors, and eliminating inconsistent or arbitrary criteria in promotion and tenure systems. Emerging trends discussed included incentivizing evidence-based approaches in teaching and learning to improve student outcomes and experiences through the inclusion of new assessments in faculty advancement processes. Potential risks of changing the current system discussed by participants included a loss of job security if the tenure system were overhauled, risks related to changing career expectations midstream, and the potential loss of valuable elements like external peer review. There was also recognition that while increasing flexibility in the advancement system might have benefits, the process cannot be so elastic that it becomes ambiguous.
At the conclusion of the first day, Leshin suggested a metaphor, which participants went on to refer to during the remainder of the event: “are we trying to take the current road, full of potholes, and make it as easy a road as possible for anyone who would like to go down it, or are we trying to build a different type of highway?”
EVALUATION AND ASSESSMENT MODELS FOR ACADEMIC CAREERS
The focus of day two of the convocation was on solutions. The first panel included five “lightning talks” on novel approaches for assessing various aspects of STEM faculty contributions.
Discussing the evaluation of research and scholarship, Anna Hatch, from the Declaration on Research Assessment, advised participants to define terms such as “excellence” and “impact” at the start of the faculty evaluation process and to outline how they will be applied. Structured narratives in faculty evaluations and the presence of a neutral party on faculty advancement committees can promote balanced discussions.
Donna Llewellyn, from Boise State University, addressed the use of teaching evaluations as one of the three traditional parameters in promotion and advancement of STEM faculty. She noted four categories of teaching measurement tools—student evaluation rubrics, classroom observation, action-response measures, and holistic approaches—and advised that “when looking at the various tools, we want to make sure that they are measuring what we value and not that they are just easy to use.” Student evaluation rubrics are starting to change; for example, Boise State University received a National Science Foundation grant to evaluate a rubric covering course design, the assessment of learning, and professional development.
Anthony DePass, from Long Island University and DePass Academic Consulting, discussed the evaluation of faculty service, such as external or internal committee service, focusing on four points: 1) the option of using quantitative compliance, or listing the number of activities undertaken, to demonstrate service; 2) the value of understanding how the “bin” of service intersects with the others—for example, serving on review panels provides resources to pursue scholarship; 3) the importance of recognizing faculty who engage in entrepreneurial activities; and 4) the need to incentivize “entrepreneurial thinking” in faculty service.
Janet Branchaw, from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, discussed the evaluation of mentorship. Integrating mentorship into tenure evaluation includes defining “what mentoring is in our context, and then consider[ing] the context in which mentoring relationships will be happening.” Branchaw emphasized the value of mentorship for retention of STEM students and trainees and how it should therefore be recognized as a key faculty contribution. She
2 Gibbs, K. D., Griffin, K. A. (2013). What do I want to be with my PhD? The roles of personal values and structural dynamics in shaping the career interests of recent biomedical science PhD graduates. CBE—Life Sciences Education 12, 711–723.
pointed to the Mentoring Competency Assessment tool that includes an assessment of the following factors: “maintaining effective communication, aligning expectations, assessing understanding, addressing diversity, fostering independence, and promoting professional development.”3
Lesley Schimanski, from Simon Fraser University, discussed the evaluation of outreach and community engagement based on her research on promotion and tenure guidelines at 129 U.S. and Canadian institutions. While 85 percent of the institutions analyzed had policies including the word “community,” this was often in reference to the academic—rather than the public—community. When faculty were asked about the perceived value of factors considered in promotion and tenure, they highlighted the total number of publications and journals’ impact factors.
In response to an anonymous question via Slido about the advancement of non-tenure track faculty, Branchaw responded that it is important that institutions have not only pathways for advancement, but clear guidelines and structures regarding who is supervising whom and how performance is being evaluated. Schimanski responded that “there is often no promotion or advancement ladder [for non-tenure track faculty] and very little support from the institutions”; for example, teaching evaluations are often lacking.
Sandra Brown, a participant from the University of California San Diego, noted the importance of linking metrics to the true values of the universities. She pointed to the potential of entrepreneurship to impact society and to research approaches such as team science that, over time, form links to communities. Branchaw responded, “How we measure the development of research is important to consider if we are going to change the evaluative system to match.”
INSIGHTS FROM THE SECOND AND THIRD SETS OF BREAKOUT GROUPS
Planning committee member Laura Diaz-Martinez, from Gonzaga University, summarized the second set of breakout discussions, which delved into the feasibility of implementing different types of assessments in the promotion and advancement systems. Recurring themes across the groups included allowing flexibility for faculty to determine how best to align their strengths and contributions with their institution’s values and considering novel approaches to assess a broader range of faculty contributions.
Diaz-Martinez discussed elements of scholarship participants cited as requiring attention, including how to measure quality and impact while determining who benefits (e.g., institutions or society). Participants had also noted that scholarship evaluation should acknowledge the time scale of different research approaches (e.g., convergent science) and consider the impact of the source of the research funds on faculty accountability. Diaz-Martinez highlighted the time commitment that mentoring requires. She also acknowledged that these commitments often go disproportionately to the faculty of color who are expected to mentor all minority students. For faculty with higher mentoring loads, this contribution, measured through a variety of assessments, could be weighted differently in their advancement process.
In the third breakout session, three questions about advancement, promotion, and tenure systems were posed to participants: 1) what might happen if the system did not change? 2) what might happen if tenure disappeared? and 3) what is needed to achieve better alignment between these processes and institutions’ missions? Discussing an advancement system that remains unchanged, participants had concerns about early-career researchers leaving academia and the perpetuation of inequities and lack of diversity in STEM faculty. Maintaining the status quo may contribute to faculty homogeneity in age, gender, and race, and hinder opportunities for creativity, innovation, and high-impact research. Participant KerryAnn O’Meara, from the University of Maryland at College Park, stated that maintaining the status quo may also impact the social compact that universities have with the public and challenge “the legitimacy of higher education.” When faculty are not incentivized to engage beyond their research or institutions, the societal benefits from academia are challenging to articulate to the public.
Ann Austin from Michigan State University noted that the removal of tenure might result in more beneficial interactions between faculty and industry. Jessica Bennett, from the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, commented that some members of her group suggested that “people may be more empowered to leave toxic work places, and institutions might be more empowered to ask people who create these toxic areas to leave” if tenure was removed. O’Meara pointed out that removing tenure is not a panacea, noting that “institutions that do not have tenure have similar problems. They have contracts, and they have the same problems.” Several breakout group representatives commented that addressing the protection of academic freedom is a key concern if tenure is removed.
The breakout group representatives also relayed participants’ suggestions for re-envisioning faculty promotion and advancement pathways while simultaneously urging caution. Bennett noted that as institutions strive to align their incentives and their values, they will require both individuals and departments to openly address any misalign-
3 An online example of the Mentoring Competency Assessment tool is available at https://uwmadison.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5jMT4fhemifK0n.
ments. Gabriela Weaver, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, discussed expanding faculty advancement pathways so that there are multiple points during a person’s career when “they can redevelop and renegotiate what they believe is their area of impact and how that would be measured” in their department and at their institutions. Maureen Kerney, from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, advised that “we need data and analysis to build the case for changes” to the promotion and advancement system.
NEW MODELS FOR ACADEMIC ADVANCEMENT
The next panel session highlighted examples of change occurring in higher education institutions for faculty advancement and other system-wide structures. Panelists shared details about their change processes, challenges, and solutions.
Brian Coppola, from the University of Michigan, discussed changes in tenure evaluation that took place in their chemistry department. He cited three attributes of a functional culture are essential to bringing about change over time: every member 1) agrees with the majority’s decision—regardless of their personal views, 2) supports the agreement in private, and 3) declares the agreements in public. Coppola also suggested that changing the advancement system in a department requires tasking a specific person to oversee the changes and using the resources on hand rather than seeking external funding to cover the development of new policies and the evaluation of new practices.
Rob Martello, from Olin College and a member of the planning committee, discussed the case of a college without tenure. Founded in 2000, Olin College offers six-year, renewable contracts. Initially, the reappointment guidelines mimicked more traditional systems. They had three categories: teaching, research, and service; he noted that “there was a line in the manual that said excess strength in one category cannot compensate for deficiency in another.” This, however, did not align with the mission for the college, which is to radically change engineering education to solve the world’s complex future challenges. Therefore, stakeholders (e.g., faculty, administrators, members of the board of trustees, alumni) revised the system to better align with Olin’s mission. Martello described how they “changed to a Venn diagram, and, unlike buckets, this diagram has areas of overlap” (see Figure 1). An activity can fall into more than one category of evaluation: “You put your activities for that year on the diagram and you collect evidence, which leads to a conversation.”
Asked to discuss Project Kaleidoscope4 and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI’s) Inclusive Excellence Program,5Tykeia Robinson, from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), described culture change initiatives across institutions. Both Project Kaleidoscope and the Inclusive Excellence Program
5 More information available at https://www.hhmi.org/science-education/programs/inclusive-excellence.
aim to improve student experiences in STEM fields, particularly students from traditionally underrepresented groups. Project Kaleidoscope supports a Leadership Institute and seven regional networks that host meetings related to advancing teaching through faculty development. Robinson described the Leadership Institute as equipping early- and mid-career faculty, investigators, and administrators with “the tools they need to bring about social change on their campuses and throughout the STEM landscape.” In the time that Project Kaleidoscope has been a part of AAC&U, the racial and ethnic diversity of Leadership Institute participants has increased from 8 to 27 percent, and the percentage of women represented at the institute has increased from 48 to 73 percent. In addition, 57 institutions from 25 states have participated in HHMI’s Inclusive Excellence Program.
Austin returned to discuss her observations of national change initiatives, including the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE (Organizational Change for Gender Equity in STEM Academic Professions) program, its Improving Undergraduate STEM Education programs, and the TEval program for supporting advancements in teaching evaluations. She noted that change requires a systems approach, multiple levers, and diverse forms of leadership. Using an ecological systems model, Austin described the many layers of interactions contained within universities and how these are situated in a broader social and contextual landscape. She discussed how many kinds of leadership are needed: “the bottom-up leadership typically does not have access to resources. Top-down alone does not have the support of the whole community. We need both.”
DISCUSSION OF POTENTIAL CHANGES TO THE FACULTY ADVANCEMENT SYSTEM
Rudin led a discussion to highlight recurrent themes and provide an opportunity for participants to provide comments and questions related to the promotion and advancement of STEM faculty.
Recalling Leshin’s analogy of fixing the highway or creating a new one, Rudin asked whether there is a way to do both: look for short-term wins that build up momentum, while creating and experimenting with new models for faculty advancement. Wright suggested that “for needed large change, the first step might be defining that single, simple aspirational goal,” such as putting students first. Austin noted that it may take a larger framework to re-envision the system, positing that “as we think about the future, in addition to saying what we find inappropriate, we need to think about what values and aspects we want to retain, such as diversity, security, and flexibility.”
Wright highlighted the vulnerability of non-tenure track faculty with regard to their lack of job security and unclear career advancement paths. She also noted the lack of incentives to implement evidence-based practices in research and teaching. O’Meara proposed focusing on non-tenure track faculty instead of fixing the tenure track. English expressed concerns about getting “wrapped up in a particular process” rather than seeking solutions that ensure that “we conduct our research, support our faculty and students, and actually express and manifest the values that we want to see.”
Rudin asked the participants what recommendation they might put forward to trigger both an “easy win” and additional changes in the future. Participant Rich Carter, from Oregon State University, suggested broadening promotion and advancement criteria to be more inclusive of entrepreneurship and innovation, a change that already has momentum. Bennett cautioned that it will be important to keep the concepts of diversity and equity “tightly infused” with any change to faculty advancement: “diversity shouldn’t be layered on top of what we do, but the lens by which we are doing everything.”
Participant Chris Pickett, from Rescuing Biomedical Research, recommended forming a cohort of universities to implement a specific set of changes, which can provide a proof of concept in a variety of contexts and appeal to institutions that may initially be reluctant. Participant Lorne Whitehead, from the University of British Columbia, shared that there is a cohort of 11 universities, the Highly Integrated Basic and Responsive Research Alliance,6 doing similar work.
Bennett suggested an “easy win” of gathering data to answer questions about the effectiveness and usefulness of advancement systems, noting a lack of information since the discontinuation of the federal survey of post-secondary faculty. Robinson added that quantitative and qualitative evidence should come together to tell a comprehensive story. According to Austin, the lack of longitudinal data about faculty, including demographics, time to advancement, teaching loads, and research demands, is a major problem when making the case for change or even fully understanding the system. Coppola concluded the group discussion by asking why academic freedom was inherently linked to the tenure system, stating, “we have to figure out how to disentangle that part.”
Three participants, Martello, O’Meara, and Smith, were asked to observe throughout the convocation and summarize their perspectives in a panel.
Martello framed the session by positing a “hypothetical” situation about the faculty advancement system: 1) the existing system is not working, 2) a potential new system is promising, but 3) change from the existing system to the new system is difficult. O’Meara posed the question of how academia and society can preserve the valuable aspects of a faculty advancement system that created unintentional consequences over time, while creating new opportunities for improving student learning, increasing public engagement, and fueling innovative research approaches. She emphasized the importance of focusing future efforts on identifying core challenges with the current system, such as transparency, consistency, and clarity. Smith recalled convocation discussions about how advancement systems can prohibit progress to increasing and sustaining racial and gender diversity in STEM. Looking forward, Smith stated that “one of the next steps is to pull all this information together so we can tell our story in a powerful and strategic way.”
At the conclusion of the panel, Leshin reflected on the entire convocation, saying, “instead of valuing what we measure, let's measure what we value. We need to articulate those things we value... [There is] clearly a need for continued evidence-based national conversation about faculty advancement in STEM.”
DISCLAIMER: This Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief was prepared by MARIA LUND DAHLBERG and LIDA BENINSON as a factual summary of what occurred at the meeting. The statements made are those of the rapporteurs or individual meeting participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all meeting participants, the planning committee, or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
PLANNING COMMITTEE: LAURIE A. LESHIN (Chair), Worcester Polytechnic Institute; MAUREEN T. CONNELLY, Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine; LAURA DIAZ-MARTINEZ, Gonzaga University; KIMBERLY GRIFFIN, University of Maryland, College Park; TASHA R. INNISS, Spelman College; ROBERT MARTELLO, Olin College; JULIE RISIEN, Oregon State University; WILLIAM ROUSE, Georgetown University.
REVIEWERS: To ensure that it meets institutional standards for quality and objectivity, this Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief was reviewed by LAWRENCE ROTHBLUM, University of Oklahoma; HIRONAO OKAHANA, Council of Graduate Schools; MICHAEL DENNIN, University of California, Irvine; and SHERILYNN BLACK, Duke University. MARILYN BAKER, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, served as the review coordinator.
SPONSORS: This workshop was supported by the National Science Foundation, The Kavli Foundation, and The David and Lucille Packard Foundation.
For additional information regarding this meeting, visit: www.nas.edu/advancement.
Suggested citation: National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Re-envisioning Promotion and Advancement for STEM Faculty: Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25742.
Policy and Global Affairs
Copyright 2020 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.