More Evenhanded Approach to Tenure
Phillip Wankat and Frank Oreovicz
how important is teaching in engineering education? Students, parents,
and state legislators consider it very important. Mission statements
tout it prominently, and everyone from university presidents to
athletic coaches talks aboutcynics would say pays lip
service toits central role.
But at tenure time, research and the ability to bring in money are
what generally matter most. Until recently, teaching was pretty
much ignored by engineering departments at research institutions
when it came to tenure. For the most part now, adequate teaching
is a minimum requirement, but the decision is still usually based
on research and funding. Great teaching can play a role in questionable
cases or when tenure is considered a year early, but outstanding
teachers who don't have research credentials are not likely
to win tenure.
the same time, teaching has become more important. Pressure from
state legislative and funding agencies has contributed to a greater
emphasis on teaching. Educational scholarship (particularly if funded
by NSF education grants), teaching on television, the writing of
successful textbooks, the preparation of multimedia presentations,
and the application of pedagogical technology are becoming major
components of the tenure decision in some cases, particularly in
departments where research is not a high priority, such as engineering
technology or non-Ph.D.-granting programs. These are important activities
but by themselves don't guarantee quality teaching.
how should teaching quality be judged? The best way is by using
multiple measurements. Student evaluations are a valid approach
because studies have shown that the answers to general questions
such as determining the best teacher or best course
do correlate with how much students learn. However, before being
used in the tenure process, student evaluation scores should be
adjusted for student motivation, class size, course level, course
type (core versus elective), and other extraneous factors that are
known to affect the score.
useful measure is a direct comparison of student learning among
different instructors. Although difficult, this can be done with
multiple course sections if a professorparticularly one not
involved in teaching a sectionindependently prepares the tests
used by multiple professors.
Other methods include the time-consumingbut essentially irreplaceablepeer
review of reading assignments, homework, and tests to determine
the level of content coverage. Classroom visits are reliable if
reviewers are trained in what to look for and if they make repeated
teaching is included in promotion and tenure decisions, professors
are motivated to improve their teaching. They can do so by reflecting
on what has worked and what hasn't in lectures and improving
tests by evaluating the questions to be sure they are unambiguous.
Portfolios are effective for arranging all of this information,
and they encourage professors to reflect on their teaching. Other
tactics include asking for evaluations from students during the
semester, reflecting on the responses, and making some changes in
the course. They might also take a teaching workshop such as the
ASEE National Effective Teaching Institute, and find a teaching
the bar for tenure is forever being raised, future candidates need
to understand both the written and the unwritten requirements. One
can argue about the priorities for tenure, but the risk of losing
the argument carries a severe penalty for assistant professors who
might be advised to save their arguments until they have tenure.
Full professors, who sit on tenure committees, and administrators
are the ones who should take the lead if there is to be any change
in the priority of teaching.
may never be accorded the status of research, but improving your
teaching will buttress your research record when the time comes
for the tenure decision. And for an established scholar, it may
add another feather to your cap.
Wankat is head of interdisciplinary engineering and the Clifton
L. Lovell Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at Purdue
University. Frank Oreovicz is an education communications specialist
at Purdue's engineering school. For more teaching tips, see
Teaching Toolbox articles - Research,
Teaching, On Campus,