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Reflecting upon reflection – The faculty file

A subset of my Facebook friends have been watching me descend slowly into madness over the past few weeks. Or I guess that’s what it looked like; I’m actually fine (except for the not sleeping, toward the end). I took today off, because I hit a milestone. Also because I don’t deal awesomely with 14 day weeks, even when they’re semi-self-imposed.

I’ve been up to something my public and special librarian friends (and some academics) don’t have to worry about: putting together my fourth year comprehensive review file (yes, it’s only been three years; that’s how we roll), to show that I am progressing toward tenure. We usually just call it a “faculty file,” for short, since the format is pretty much the same between the fourth year, tenure, and promotion to full Professor. (I’m an Assistant Professor of Library Science. Did you know that? I usually use my alternate title, “Web Services Librarian,” because it’s more descriptive, but both are true.) One more tab gets added, next time, and I have to beg colleagues further afield for nice letters. Actually, I’m unclear on this. Perhaps my Dean has to ask them? Anyway, there will be letters, but not this time.

The beginning: trying to get a handle on it all
So what’s in a faculty file, you might wonder? This varies by institution, I’m sure. I’ll talk about the component parts, for me, though. I’ll talk about them in roughly the order I got them together, rather than the order they are presented in the file—which is still not standardized. There was a revision cycle for the first three components, and some of them I already had. But this is the order in which I got them organized, for lack of a better term.

First, at MPOW, at the beginning of every academic year, you make a document that says “here’s what I’m going to do for the year,” in bullet points, broken out into Teaching Activity, Administrative Activity, Research/Creative Activity, and University and Public Service Activity. I’m what’s known as bipartite, so I don’t have Research/Creative on my workloads. (That’s right, I don’t have to publish!) I’m also not a department head, so I have no Administrative Activity, either. (Even when I’m acting department head during my department head’s absences, I don’t end up having to do much in that realm. Certainly not enough that it goes on my workload.) We break it down by credit hours, so that 4/5 of my credits are in Teaching, and the other 1/5 are in Service. I should nominally be spending one workday a week on service activities. Some weeks it’s less, and some it’s far more. I also muddy the waters by doing service stuff at home, during nights and weekends, as do probably most of my colleagues.

Getting a handle on it. All the paper on the chair is destined for recycling.
Those documents are called 1) Workload Agreements. Their end-of-year counterparts are known as 2) Activity Reports and consist of bullet points outlining what you did all year.

The tricky part—and what you see happening in that first picture—is making sure that there’s nothing on your workloads that doesn’t also show up in your activity reports. (And, to a lesser extent, vice versa.) You also shouldn’t mention anything in the third component, your 3) Curriculum Vitae, that wasn’t on an activity report. I don’t know how seriously other schools/departments or campus review committee members take this part of it, but the library faculty is very serious about this. And really about every aspect of the faculty file. I think we are sensitive to being non-traditional faculty, and that makes us treat the entire file as some sort of transcendental thing.

On the bright side, you can revise those documents. And I did. I have to make a meeting with my Dean to get him to sign off on all of my revisions. Because there were a lot. (I forgot things on both previous activity reports. And I had things on my workloads that just didn’t end up happening, which is totally normal. A colleague who has been tenured for six years—so working at the library for at least 10—is going through this same thing for their post-tenure review. I feel pretty confident my activity report for this year will be correct when it’s turned in, though. ;))

Next there’s the part you can’t control or comment on: 4) Past Reviews. As an untenured faculty member, when your activity report goes to your Dean, s/he writes you a review. You sign it and get a copy, and I assume there’s a procedure for if you disagree. In the library, our department heads write letters of review, which go to the Dean, and he bases his reviews heavily on those. He tends to stick to the positive, so, happily, they look nice in our files. My reviews from this file will also be included in this area, for my tenure file.

The file starting to take shape, with documentation … documented!
This is also good time to make sure you have 5) Verification of Terminal Degree (an official transcript from your library school, mailed to the right office of the university, will result in a letter you can use in every file thereafter) and your 6) Initial Appointment Letter (technically optional, but it makes the reviewers happy to have it).

Next is, in my opinion, the trickiest part of the file: 7) the Self Review. You have, depending whom you ask, maybe 5-10 pages to talk about the work you’ve done since starting at the university. (Mine is 8 pages, but includes a section that some of the other librarians like to separate out into its own tab, 7.5) Goals and Objectives. I didn’t want to separate it, because I believe one’s goals should be directly related to one’s growth so far. Also, our Provost and Chancellor probably won’t read it if it’s in its own tab. They claim they only read the CV, the self review, and previous reviews. I want those guys to know I have plans!) It’s your chance to tell your story, to show yourself in the best possible light, and to address anything in your file that the reviewers might think is weird. You’re supposed to do an honest assessment of yourself, but you’re also out to impress people. It’s hard, guys, I’m not gonna lie. I’ve had practice doing this kind of thing before, because Big IT Consultant was into it. But those were short reviews, on a one year timeframe; this review is cumulative. And being read by multiple audiences (library peers, non-library academic peers, and the Dean, Provost, and Chancellor), all of whom are looking for different things.

Anyway, I think I have at least a passable self review, thanks to some very patient and helpful friends. I’m on my fourth major draft. I didn’t track minor drafts, which is probably for the best.


Once all of that is squared away, you need to start gathering 8) Teaching Activities Documentation (important point: for me, making the website is defined as a teaching activity), 9) Service Activities Documentation, 10) Professional Development Documentation, and 11) Awards & Honors Documentation. I mean, hopefully you started years ago, saving emails that thanked you for doing your job (not kidding), certificates that were handed out for participation, etc. I had a ton of documentation pulled together, because I was planning to submit a practice file a year ago. That fell through pretty badly, due to a miscommunication or something, but at least some of this work was done already when I restarted, this year.

The documentation is probably the most amorphous part of the file, for me. It’s the weakest part of my file, I’m pretty sure, though I’m not sure if it’s actually bad, or just not amazing. Some of the emails I included did show that I participated in stuff, but they weren’t exactly gushing thanks; a lot of them were just procedural emails, sent in the course of getting work done. One coworker recently thanked me for some [I think rather good] changes on our website, and that definitely went in, pretty prominently. I also typed an 18 page(!) document, full of screen shots, to show off a lot of my work on the website. I didn’t include every change to every sub-page, because it would have been huge—also, I didn’t capture screen shots as I was making changes unless I thought a change was significant—but pretty much the whole front page progression I shared a couple of posts ago made it in, sans, I think, one screen shot. It was in a much more formal tone of voice, though. And I left out my critiques of academia. ;)

Finally, everything has to go in a notebook—the committee prefers D-ring—with tabs. The tabs are supposed to be labeled front and back, for ease of use by the committee. There’s a 11) Table of Contents tab, and you’re supposed to include a mini-TOC for the four documentation tabs, as well, so that your reviewers can see what’s there at a glance. You also have to include a 12) Letter of Application, stating the purpose of your file (and it has to be a bit more formal than “my contract says I have to prove I’m worth employing for another two years”), and then summarize the purpose of the file on a 13) Cover Page and 14) Spine Label for the outside of the file.

I’ll take a picture of my final notebook before I hand it off to the committee. I meant to take a picture before I handed it off to my mentor, but I didn’t; and I used boring white paper, instead of pretty paper, anyway. Also, yes, I have more than one mentor, obviously (please don’t be sad, other mentors! you are important!), but this one is a formal relationship: within the library each untenured faculty member is supposed to have a tenured mentor, who helps with file preparation and navigating faculty … stuff. (I mean, I got to pick my mentor. She wasn’t assigned to me or anything. But it’s all official.) The mentor puts it on his/her workload and everything. So in a week, maybe less, I’ll have a ton more work to do on my file, based on her suggestions.

I hope to show it to a second person, too. Even though it’s just a fourth year file, I want it to be as good as it can be, so that the committees write me positive reviews and so that I have a less painful experience updating it into a tenure file in a year or two.

(Probably two. They’d hold me to a much higher standard if I went up next year—they would require that my four years’ worth of work be equal to an exemplary five years’ worth of work for a normal person. If I wait two years, I just have to be successful for five years’ worth of work. Unless my review says “You’re so awesome, we wish we could give you tenure now,” which it definitely will not, I had probably better wait until the normal time. I mean, I am definitely doing fine. If they would hold me to the five years standard, but successful instead of exemplary, I really think I could make an argument for going up next year. On the other hand, I’m a little weak on community service [something my stellar professional service partially, but not completely, makes up for], and I’d like to have another couple of big projects to show off, plus maybe a little more university committee work, just to kind of round it all out. I’ll be good to go in two years; but I think next year would be tighter than I like to cut it. Does that make sense?)

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