Revolution Lullabye

January 11, 2013

Weiser, Peer Review in the Tenure and Promotion Process

Weiser, Irwin. “Peer Review in the Tenure and Promotion Process.” College Composition and Communication 63.4 (June 2012): 645-672.

Weiser’s essay, included in this issue’s Symposium on Peer Review, describes the role of peer review in the tenure and promotion process. Weiser’s explanations, taken from his experiences as a faculty member, WPA, department chair, and dean at two different universities (Purdue University and York College of Pennsylvania), show the variance of the tenure and promotion process at American colleges and universities. Wesier argues that this variance is not a drawback: institutions have different missions, and their expectations for tenure (scholarship, teaching, and service/engagement) need to reflect those particular university and department-level missions.

Weiser organizes his essay through a series of questions: Who is reviewed? Who reviews? What is reviewed (and by whom)? What are the criteria for review? Are reviews (always) confidential?  He spends considerable time in the essay describing the purpose and function of external letters of evaluation, a requirement for tenure that is not universal yet increasing (almost all research, PhD-granting universities require external letters.) He distinguishes between external letters of support and external letters of evaluation, and argues that these external letters should only guide the internal committees who are ultimately charged with the decisions of tenure and promotion.

At the end of his article, Weiser offers a series of questions that can be used as a heuristic for developing clear, objective, and fair tenure and promotion processes.  The questions are addressed to the multiple stakeholders in the process: candidates up for tenure; members of a tenure and promotion committee; external reviewers.

Weiser also argues that the processes for tenure and promotion need to be revisable so that they continue to reflect current expectations, values, and realities.  He specifically cites the shrinking opportunties to publish scholarly monographs, the advent of digital journals and digital publication venues, and the emergence of scholarship of teaching and engagement as contemporary realities that need to be addressed in the construction of tenure and promotion guidelines.

Notable Notes

history of peer review in tenure and promotion tied to AAUP tenure guidelines (1940) and the history of peer review in publication.

“peer” can mean multiple things (654)

the local levels of review are the most important – future committees and levels base their recommendations off of them (653).

Quotable Quotes

“Peer review, both internal and external, serves two important purposes in the academy. First, it provides the opportunity for the work of colleagues to be evaluated and acknowledged for its contributions in the classroom, in the profession, and in the wider culture. Second, through the system of checks and balances that assures that work is being evaluated by numerous people, many of who base their evaluations only on the accomplishments of a candidate and not on their personal knowledge of her or him, peer review provides a level of protection for candidates from personal or intellectual biases. Peer review supports the foundation of tenure: the preservation of academic freedom and the protection of faculty from unwarranted dismissal” (670).

“And it should be clear that variation in policies and practices is appropriate, because it acknowledges the impracticality and unfairness of a one-size-fits-all set of criteria that are applied regardless of institutional mission. Evaluation for candidates for tenure and promotion must be viewed in context of mission, with recognition that different emphases on research, teaching, and service are appropriate” (665).

“There appears to be an increasingly common agreement that faculty are members of multiple communities – communities of engaged teachers whose work can be – perhaps best can be – evaluated locally, but also of communities of scholars whose discursive work is best evaluated by other members of those communities, people who present at the same conferences, publish in the same journals (or edit them), and are members of the same professional organizations” (655).


January 3, 2013

Reid and Estrem with Belcheir, The Effects of Writing Pedagogy Education on Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Approaches to Teaching Composition

Reid, E. Shelley and Heidi Estrem, with Marcia Belcheir. “The Effects of Writing Pedagogy Education on Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Approaches to Teaching Composition.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 30-73.

Reid and Estrem, through a two-site, multi-year study of graduate teaching assistants’ training as writing teachers, argue both that 1. TA training programs should focus on modeling to new teachers how to apply composition theories to their prior experiences as writers and students through consistent reflective practice and 2. that writing pedagogy education should extend in a formal way beyond a teaching assistant’s first year or semester.

Reid and Estrem’s study – conducted at both Boise State University and George Mason University – consisted of both a survey containing Likert scale, demographic, and short-answer questions (N=88) and semi-structured interviews (N=44) with both first-year and “experienced” teaching assistants. The goal of the research was to determine what teaching assistants valued or prioritized in their teaching of writing, what they were concerned about, and what they felt confident about as teachers of writing (syllabus design, student feedback, etc.) The survey questions and interviews did not try to elict direct responses to the formal graduate writing pedagogy education the teaching assistants participated in. Rather, the questions and the interviews tried to whether or not the principles taught in the graduate teaching seminars and workshops had “taken root” naturally in how the teaching assistants think about and approach teaching (38).

Reid and Estrem had four hypotheses: “H1: Formal pedagogy education positively impacts TA’s confidence, skills, and problem-solving repetoire; H2: TAs productively integrate formal pedagogy education into their daily thinking about and practice of teaching; H3: The effects described in H1 and H2 vary significantly across sites in relation to local conditions and practices; H4: The effects described in H1 and H2 differ across yearly stages, and are more prevalent and stable for second- and third-year TAs than they are for first-year TAs.”

The findings surprised the researchers. First, the researchers found that TAs were more likely to draw on their own personal experience as writers and students or the experiences of peers in order to build their confidence and increase their teaching and problem-solving skills than turning to the specific theories or practices covered in the writing pedagogy courses at their institutions.  Second, the surveys and the interviews showed very uneven integration of composition principles and theories in how TAs think about and talk about their teaching experiences (for example, TAs frame problems more frequently as “student-centered” than “pedagogy-centered” (48)).  Third, there was very little statistical significance in the responses between the two sites and between first-year and experienced TAs in their second or third years, showing that local conditions didn’t have a drastic effect on how TAs approached the teaching of writing and that experienced TAs weren’t more confident about teaching than first-year TAs.

Notable Notes

GSU and BSU have very different TA training programs – one is a two-week seminar in the summer, a one-semester teaching practicum, and a 1/2 teaching load in the first year; the other is a two-semester teaching practicum and a writing center appointment in the first year.  However, there wasn’t sizable statistical difference among the two groups. (51)

Survey questions and statistical results published in the appendix.

“interteaching mode” – a theory borrowed by Malderez/Bodoczky that new teachers aquire a pedagogy over time, in the same way second-language learners aquire a language (called “interlanguage” theories)  (34)

K-12 teacher education analysis (37)

Robert Parker – the progression of making theory practical – of using it to solve problems (55).

One of the problems – institutional pressure to certify TAs quickly, after weeks or a semester or a year, without time for TAs to truly develop into writing educators (57).

Quotable Quotes

“Data suggest that our TAs were influenced more strongly by prior personal experiences and beliefs and their experiences in the classroom than by their formal pedagogy education” (34).

“Our data do suggest that the very specific information we bring to TAs still occupies a limited and sometimes peripheral position in their daily thoughts and practices regarding teaching writing” (49).

“Our new teachers see writing education often, even predominantly, through the lens of student management rather than composition pedagogy; they continue to explicitly value their own lived experience more strongly than the knowledge or skills we focus on with them; and they infrequently use language or mention concepts that we can identify as coming from our programs. In other words, the data we didn’t find thus suggest the need for a more complex understanding of causation and learning regarding writing pedagogy education” (54-55).

“However, the ‘resistance’ we see in our data may be more inertial than consciously directed: we may simply be seeing TAs rank the least familiar and most abstract factors lowest among things they can rely on in helping them feel and act like confident teachers” (55).

“We cannot endow our TAs with new theory by giving them a pedagogy class; they must appraise and integrate new knowledge themselves” (55). Development takes time.

Call for extended TA education: “Continued access to guided educational moments might provide the interruption, the call to reflection and ongoing metacognition that have been found to enable transfer” (59).  Parallels to WAC and spiral writing curricula.

“Given data that reveal so few differences between first-year and beyond-first-year TAs, a program of regular, formal, directed pedagogy must continue beyond the first year if we hope to have any substantial, lasting effect on how TAs teach and think about teaching writing” (61).   Sporadic professional development opportunities are not enough.

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