Aligning promotion systems with institutional values and distinctiveness

WPI is recognized for its balance of teaching and research, engaging students with project-based learning at centers around the globe, commitment to student advising and mentoring, purpose-driven and applied research at the crossroads of disciplines. As at many institutions, however, these values had not been reflected in our faculty rewards system. After a data-driven, grass-roots effort, in 2017 the faculty approved a new Associate-to-Full promotion policy that defines multiple forms of scholarship and rewards more inclusive paths to promotion. Early outcomes are promising, including more equitable outcomes by gender. Our ADVANCE Adaptation grant from the National Science Foundation supports implementation of the policy, along with the systemic change and culture change that will be necessary to sustain this early progress.

Improving promotion policy and processes

We aim to increase clarity, transparency, context awareness, flexibility, accountability, inclusion, and equity mindedness in the promotion policies and processes.  Diverse working groups of faculty, department heads, and promotion committee members are collectively identifying areas for improvement in the Associate-to-Full promotion policy and practices, for both tenured faculty and for teaching- and research-track faculty. Early outcomes from these working groups include a diverse collection of successful promotion dossiers that all faculty can access. The groups are also drafting proposals for policy modifications and a comprehensive guide to promotion for all stakeholders, including rubrics for evaluating high quality teaching, multiple forms of scholarship, and external impact.

Associate Professor mentoring

We developed and refined a template for a mid-career Professional Development Plan (PDP) that will serve as the focal point for mentoring at the Associate rank. Values-driven and passion-driven, the PDP empowers each faculty member to chart an exciting five-year vision, establish short-term goals aligned with that vision, and identify a network of mentors and professional growth opportunities.  Mentoring for Associate faculty is institutionalized at WPI since 2018. Associate Professors select their own mentoring team, and the team provides guidance toward the next promotion.

Transforming the role of Department Heads

Department heads are an untapped, yet potentially powerful ally for advancing greater equity among the ranks of full professors.  In a two-fold pilot, we 1) transform faculty annual review conversations from a purely evaluative to a professional development model, and 2) re-imagine the role of department heads—from manager to leaders of creative experts.  The pilot offers a new model for faculty annual reviews that involves empathic inquiry; co-creation of possibilities; and situating faculty’s work within the larger constraints, values, and strategic goals of the department and university. Further, we introduce a new approach to department head leadership training—informed by cutting-edge research on integrative creative leadership and catalyzing innovation. 

Bias awareness and mitigation

We will work with faculty, mentors, and administrators to Become Intentional and Aware of our Sereotypes (or BIAS).  We created a research-based guide to understanding what biases are, how they may influence promotion decisions, and mechanisms that can be put in place to limit the reliance on biases.   Becoming intentional and aware of our stereotypes is exceptionally important because research consistently shows that individuals who believe they are objective, are not biased, or can suppress their biases typically rely on stereotypes and prejudices more than those who accept that we all have biases.

Equity and Diversity Data

We aim to foster collective ownership, responsibility, and accountability for promotion equity by making data visible. As such, we are putting processes in place to monitor a combination of data sources including promotion outcomes, faculty satisfaction, and faculty demographics. In the first several years under the new policy, gender differences in promotion success rates are closing, and a wider range of faculty work has been recognized.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1760577. (ADVANCE Adaptation)
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.