Monday, June 20, 2011

Tenure, retention, binders, and budgets...oh my!

Summer months for faculty members are often filled with the items we couldn't squeeze into the "regular semesters" as we try to: finally get that article done, analyze that data, edit that book, submit that proposal, or write that report. Whatever "that" item is for you, the feeling of "other" work for summer months can become overwhelming. But the summer months also provide a type of motivation that I don't feel any other time. I see a tangible end (July 31) to my work cycle and MUST accomplish tasks before that date. No more slippery deadlines, no more sliding a task from one day's list to another. I become hyper-motivated to accomplish as much as possible despite my regular summer teaching load. Somehow the magical word "summer" implies I can get it all done.

We'll save the sad reality of the ability to accomplish all of these things for another day...

Today, the reality is summer holds certain projects that rise to the front of all faculty work: the end of the fiscal year budget reports for any grants, and at my institution the looming "Tenure and Retention Dossier."  This summer these two projects seem daunting. I was fortunate to get funded and now face the responsibility of the reporting phase. Though I groan, there is something wonderful about telling funders what was accomplished with their money. It is also a nice sense of finality for a long-term project.

My summer also involves a yearly, mandatory retention dossier (later to become a tenure dossier). This is just a huge binder filled with all of the evidence of your academic work from the past year. I love that my institution requires one every year from those faculty on the tenure track. It is a great motivator to remain organized and to see where you might want to improve. It is suggested we submit one binder and make a copy of everything for our records. You don't have to be a long-time reader of this blog to know I fully embrace the organizational challenge each year. I buy plastic sheets, type up tabbed section dividers, color-code my table of contents to the different sections, cross-reference, paginate, and included everything I could think a junior faculty member would need. I carefully review the format in our faculty handbook. I finish it early and let it sit before proofreading it. This past year my four-inch, color-coded, tabbed binder was submitted and I couldn't help but feel proud. It was organized, detailed, and a perfect representation of my past year of work.

From my desk.
The institutional process is lengthy, of course, as it is everywhere. So, months later I get the binder back and stare dumbfounded. What was this gargantuan thing? This HEAVY, overwhelming (albeit well-organized) binder seemed slightly ridiculous. Couldn't the information be more efficiently displayed in an electronic format? Couldn't we save some trees here?  I couldn't believe any one was sifting through all of that information (though I did enjoy the trip to the office supply store and the color-coded organizational process, of course). After lugging the binder back home to await updates for the next cycle of retention reviews, I asked my Chair if I could submit an electronic portfolio this coming fall, but was told that was not an option--though I could submit a "supplement" electronically (it may or may not be viewed by committee members). Her reasoning was sound and I can understand the institutional thought behind the policies of reviewing a hard copy document in a set location so nothing goes amiss, but an e-portfolio seems so much easier on both the reviewers and the reviewees (and the environment!). I write seeking input: What are your institutions doing? Hard copy submissions with optional e-supplements that may or may not be viewed (like my institution)? Only hard copy? Only e-portfolios? Fill me in! I would love to know though in the end, this summer will still mean a new binder, dividers, tabs, sharpies, and me sitting blissfully amid my office supplies organizing another year of academic output.

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