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Academic Software that Bridges Faculty Committees and Administrative Leadership

Topics in Higher Education

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If you’re building technology to help with academic talent decisions, how can you build something that is valuable both to faculty serving on committees and to leaders in the administration?

Here’s one challenge that we’re constantly trying to account for at Interfolio: an institution’s faculty members and its administrative leadership play fundamentally different roles when making hiring and promotion decisions about faculty employees. Since, say, a full professor and a chief business officer (even a provost) are oriented toward different components of the institution’s mission, they speak up for different priorities.

Obviously, both camps approach their work with critical depth and sensitivity, and a compassionate view of the institution’s mission. Suffice it to say, here, that the committee members’ role is typically to assess individual candidates’ competence and character as scholars, while administrative leaders are concerned with the distribution of resources, diversity, and roles among the school’s faculty.

As a result, when it comes to improving the administrative practices surrounding committee decisions, there are two major dimensions that must be accounted for.

On the one hand, there’s the efficiency of the actual organizational practices. This includes necessities like:

  • collecting candidates’ materials and information
  • obtaining confidential evaluations
  • distributing materials to the correct reviewers in the correct sequence
  • attaching internal documents along the way
  • rearranging the contents of a promotion or tenure packet
  • making a final decision and recording it
  • communicating with candidates and committees

All of these present logistical headaches that a well-designed online system should immensely improve throughout the institution, freeing up the faculty, administration, and staff to spend more time on other projects.

On the other hand, there’s visibility into administrative activity around faculty talent decisions—in a word, oversight. The dean, provost, chief academic officer, chief business officer, and director of academic or information technology all have a responsibility to ground their strategic planning in evidence and data, and to open up that evidence and data to comment from the faculty. On the most basic level, this means creating a consolidated venue for the facts about committee activity. It should offer up information like:

  • what committees individual faculty members are serving on from year to year
  • what information is shared between faculty committees and the human resources office
  • how the candidate review process differs, in practice, across disciplines and schools
  • how many applications were received, or tenure and promotion cases conducted, across disciplines and schools
  • consistency of language and requirements across the college or university

If an academic institution is going to adopt technology that will at once ease the burden of faculty committee decisions and provide a new level of factual data from which to make strategic decisions, it’s going to have to speak the language of a faculty member, an academic officer, and an administrative assistant.

There’s a great deal to say on the subject, and more will be coming out soon as we discuss more about where our own platform for this is going. But to get you thinking, let’s propose something like this: maybe the technology used to organize an administrative activity should itself offer transparent, accessible data reporting on that activity. It could help the institution to ensure a kind of common ground for different parties involved whose attention is turned in different, sometimes conflicting directions.