Talent management, part 2

Written by: Donald Heller

Primary Source: The Dean’s Blog

A typical RPT portfolio

A typical RPT portfolio

Last week I wrote about recruiting new faculty to the College of Education, and this week I turn to another important part of our efforts at developing and retaining faculty: the reappointment, promotion, and tenure review process, or RPT as it is known here at Michigan State.

Like most universities, MSU has very detailed guidelines that govern the RPT process for faculty who hold appointments in our tenure system.  These guidelines spell out who is eligible to participate in the review, who reviews the faculty, the timelines, and the criteria and standards for reappointment and promotion.  The RPT process is very important to faculty life.   In fact the most common questions I receive when interviewing candidates for faculty positions in our college are related to RPT.

There are three important milestones in a faculty member’s career.  The first, reappointment, typically happens during a faculty member’s third year, and is based on her accomplishments in the first two years of the appointment (the timing of any of these milestones can be pushed back for reasons such as birth or adoption of a child, serious illness, or other factors).  The second milestone is promotion to associate professor and granting of tenure, which generally occurs during the candidate’s sixth year.  And the last step, promotion to full professor, can occur any time after someone is promoted to associate professor and granted tenure.

The reviews conducted at all three of these stages involve multiple levels and individuals.  While the details differ somewhat from college to college, the outline I provide here is typical of how the process is conducted at MSU (our college’s guidelines can be found here).  Candidates typically begin to assemble their materials in the spring of the year before their review is to be conducted.  These materials include:

  • curriculum vitae
  • samples of research publications
  • a brief (5-6 page) narrative summarizing the candidate’s philosophy and accomplishments in the domains of teaching, research, and service/outreach
  • any prior RPT reports
  • the candidate’s annual reviews
  • a table showing how the candidate’s load, or effort, was distributed each year between teaching, research, and service/outreach
  • documentation of teaching and graduate student advising, including teaching evaluations, syllabi, sample assignments, and the like

If the candidate is going up for the granting of tenure and promotion to associate professor, or promotion to full professor, she also includes a list of potential outside reviewers.  The candidate’s department also puts together a list of outside reviewers, and from this combined list, approximately six to eight outside faculty are asked to conduct the review.  These experts must work in the candidate’s field of study, have strong reputations as scholars, be outside of MSU, and are not to have collaborated with the candidate in any way.  The letters submitted by these reviewers become part of the candidate’s RPT review portfolio.

The university’s guidelines establish the criteria and standards for reappointment, promotion, and the granting of tenure.  The general expectation, particularly for the latter two milestones, is that the candidate demonstrates “sustained, outstanding achievement in education and scholarship across the mission.”  This standard is to be applied relative to those of peer institutions, i.e., other research universities.

The review of the candidate’s RPT portfolio begins in the fall, and involves multiple levels:

  1. The candidate’s home department RPT Committee
  2. Department chair
  3. College RPT Committee
  4. Dean
  5. Provost
  6. Board of Trustees

In some departments, step 1 also may involve multiple levels, such as a program-level review before the department RPT Committee review, or after the department RPT Committee, and a review by all of the tenured faculty or full professors in the department.

At each stage, the committee or individual reviews materials in the portfolio, which typically include hundreds of pages (as shown in the photo in this post).  The department and college RPT committees vote on the candidacy, and write a letter of recommendation summarizing the vote with an assessment of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses; the department chair provides her recommendation and assessment in a letter as well.  These letters all become part of the candidate’s file when it comes to me for review.

Our college typically has 10 to 15 RPT review cases each year, and I review each portfolio during the month of February.  Based on my interpretation of the candidate’s accomplishments, along with the recommendations of those who reviewed the candidate earlier in the process (including the external reviewers), I make a recommendation to the Provost regarding whether the candidate should be reappointed or promoted.  In cases where the candidate has a split appointment with another college, I consult with the dean of that college in drafting my recommendation and letter.   The Provost has the final say, though her decision must be formally ratified by the Board of Trustees.

From beginning to end, the process takes upward of an entire year.  It can be a nerve-wracking period for the candidates, because as confident as they may be, no case is a slam dunk.  In our college, however, we have had a very strong track record of developing our faculty so that they will be successful as they reach these career milestones.

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Donald Heller
Donald E. Heller is Dean of the College of Education and a professor in the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University. Prior to his appointment in January, 2012, he was Director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education and professor of education and senior scientist at The Pennsylvania State University. He also has held a faculty appointment at the University of Michigan. His teaching and research is in the areas of educational economics, public policy, and finance, with a primary focus on issues of college access and choice for low-income and minority students. He has consulted on higher education policy issues with university systems and policymaking organizations in California, Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Washington, Washington DC, and West Virginia, and has testified in front of Congressional committees, state legislatures, and in federal court cases as an expert witness. Before his academic career, he spent a decade as an information technology manager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Donald Heller

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