So, you wanna get on steady?

By Stephanie Shewchuk

In an attempt to raise its profile and become a world-class university, the University of Calgary has begun in recent years to focus on new areas of development. The academic plan pioneered by administration places a heavy emphasis on research and the recruitment of academic staff in areas where research is expanding. In such an environment, some professors have become increasingly concerned about the balance between research and teaching.

“The city of Calgary has almost a million people, it’s the most rapidly growing city in Canada and I would wager to say that it is the most educated, with the most university degrees per capita,” said an anonymous U of C professor. “So why is the U of C behaving as though it’s in an isolated college town in the northeastern United States, putting all of its emphasis on research?”

In order to increase research output, some professors, especially those who are not tenured, have become unsettled at the pressure exerted on them to conform to university standards.

“I’ve been told to lower the quality of my teaching to raise the quality of my research,” said the same anonymous professor, who asked his name be withheld because he does not have tenure. “The university has a thinly veiled contempt for teaching.”

Haskayne School of Business associate professor Dr. Jeremy Hall agreed, noting the promotional process professors undergo in Haskayne is heavily biased in favour of research.

“It is most heavily weighted on research, which constitutes 60 per cent of the decision,” said Hall. “Teaching comes in second with 30 per cent of the total and the remaining 10 per cent is allotted towards recognizing service contributions.”

Hall received tenure within the last year.

“However, there is still a large degree of subjectivity and sometimes, if a professor’s teaching is brilliant, they still aren’t going to get tenure,” he added.

U of C vice-president of human resources Sandy Repic explained the percentages differ from faculty to faculty.

“We aim for a 40 per cent focus on teaching, 40 per cent focus on research and a 20 per cent focus on service as a general guideline,” said Repic. “However, there are certain differences in each faculty and there are also differences depending on the category of appointment.”

She further explained that within every faculty there is a consultation process between either the department head or the associate dean and individual professors in order to determine their involvement in research, teaching and service.

U of C associate VP academic Robert Woodrow also noted these percentages are only guiding principles.

“There’s no definite percentage breakdown in the appointment, promotion and tenure manual,” explained Woodrow. “These are only guidelines because we have to make a decision and we can’t specifically quantify x, y, or z in recommending career paths.”

The domain of research is comprised of publications, articles, research grants, and textbooks. Teaching focuses on a professor’s general reputation, faculty surveys, awards received, and the Universal Student Rating of Instruction. The service sector of the decision describes contributions by professors within the university community, as well as within their personal respective communities. These activities can include sitting on the editorial board of disciplinary or interdisciplinary journals, participating in grant selection committees, or involvement with the adjudication panels of provincial, regional or national agencies.

The process of tenure and promotion begins with the faculty promotions committee, which consists of academic staff members, a faculty association representative, a student representative, and the dean of the faculty. In general, when a professor is being considered for promotion, the department head will make a recommendation to the FPC, which after review and evaluation will then make a recommendation to the dean.

The dean then has the option to make a recommendation to the General Promotions Committee, which is a university-level body. It is then determined whether or not a professor should receive tenure.

Students’ Union VP academic Paige Forsyth has witnessed the process first-hand.

“The balance is supposed to be 40-40-20 on research, teaching and service,” she said. “It’s the dean’s responsibility to ensure that it is this way. On the promotion committees [in the faculty of humanities] I’ve sat on, everyone has been very aware of comparing information and making sure the process works.”

David Reid, the former department head of biological sciences, concurred the system is supposed to be constituted of a 40-40-20 balance.

“It’s supposed to be [40-40-20], it’s bureaucratically simple,” he noted. “But in reality, they all blur into each other. Publishing papers is the main currency in determining the research component and it’s easier to measure. It’s harder to measure teaching excellence but evaluations in this area are looked at very seriously and it’s just as important.”

Besides the involvement of elected SU faculty representatives on the FPC’s of their own faculties, their student input is limited to the USRIs. Last semester the level of involvement dropped to 35 per cent and if it reaches 20 per cent, they will no longer be used in professor evaluations. Along with the USRIs, the GPC takes the SU Teaching Excellence Awards into consideration, however, explained Forsyth, the student ratings are the most accessible and effective means of student input.

“If the USRIs dip below 20 per cent, that is going to be a huge problem,” warned Forsyth. “Although it’s been difficult with the new online system in place, students should realize that this is the main way they can have their say regarding teaching from professors.”

Also having been involved with the tenure process as both a recipient and as a member of a tenure committee, Hall was able to further elaborate on the exchange between the three segments.

“I don’t know that the process of tenure is working that well,” he said. “There’s no recognition in the interaction between the research, teaching and service spheres. Tenure is almost exclusively about research and productivity. The large amount of subjectivity can mean that in some instances, if you’ve published in the right academic journals, you can almost forget about teaching.”

Two-time SU Teaching Excellence Award recipient Allison Dube shared a similar sentiment.

“I defy anyone to say that teaching is valued to the extent that they say it is,” said Dube, a sessional political science teacher. “It is almost less than nothing. That is to say if I had spent less time with students and more time working on research publications, I would be better off.”

“Personally speaking, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, though,” he said.

Despite dissatisfaction among some faculty members, U of C Fac- ulty Association president Anton Colijn defended the process.

“I would say that there are no serious shortcomings, on the whole it’s a reasonably fair process,” said Colijn. “There can be issues with different departments and faculties applying different standards but of course the process must vary. Someone in drama, in fine arts, is very different from somebody in surgery or medicine.”

“The university wants to raise its research profile, but it does not want to lower the quality of teaching. Overall, I think the administration is doing a good job,” he added.

Woodrow affirmed the importance of research in the tenure process, but stressed both teaching and research are both weighted heavily.

“Research is one mandate of a research university and we have to be able to have a viable, sustainable program,” said Woodrow. “I think it’s categorically wrong to say there’s less of an emphasis on teaching, and when profs do not get tenure it’s usually for a good reason. Most people do get tenure, and with proper attention, you can succeed.”

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