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Four hidden cost drivers around faculty promotion and tenure review

Topics in Higher Education

This post is part of a series on contemporary best practices for promotion and tenure reviews in higher education. For a fuller picture, take a look at our recently released free best practices checklist.

Processes for managing promotion and tenure reviews can eat up lots of time, as anyone who has ever been a candidate or reviewer can tell you.  But inefficient processes can also consume scarce budget dollars in ways that may not be so obvious.

Here are the top four hidden costs of P&T review processes—and how to avoid them.

1. Producing hard copies of candidate files.

At most institutions, the costs of buying and servicing copiers and supplying toner and paper come out around three and half cents a printed page. Three and a half cents is not a lot, but number of printed pages used to execute the tenure and promotion review process in hard copy is often enormous.

At many institutions, each P&T candidate produces a dozen hard copies of their file. Each file contains hundreds of pages and dozens more are added by administrators and internal and external reviewers weighing in. Thirty candidates submitting 12 copies of files with 450 pages—plus 50 more pages added by reviewers—results in 180,00 pages and a cost of over $6,000 a year.

Paper-based processes produce a high cost for the environment as well as. Printing that many sheets of paper consumes more than 21 trees in each review cycle.

2. Conditioning, maintaining, and allocating campus space to archive files in hard copy

Storage space is another hidden cost of P&T processes based in paper. Keeping decades of old paper files requires spending money to heat, cool, and maintain the space used for storage.

More significantly, hard copy archiving prevents storage space from being considered in plans to alleviate the space crisis that is impacting most institutions. Not that long ago, colleges and universities simply built new buildings when more space was needed, but soaring construction costs and lack of funding for capital investments are prompting institutions to consider whether they are using every inch of existing space most efficiently. Increasingly, institutions are deciding to redeploy even spaces formerly used for storage to other, more pressing needs.\

Growing numbers of schools are shifting to digital archiving for P&T files in order to free up more square footage for space reallocation plans that can defer new capital expenditures. Adding to the attractiveness of digital archiving are other benefits, such as protection for data in the event of flooding, fires, and other disasters in the campus environment and making historical data on case outcomes readily available for analysis.

3. Scanning hard copies of files for archiving

Many institutions managing P&T files with paper decide to archive files digitally, which saves the cost of allocating, conditioning, and maintaining scarce campus space for file storage. But this approach adds the annual cost of scanning thousands of pages by hand. Whether you hire a third party to do this scanning (as many institutions do) or have your own staff carry out the work, this method takes up resources you could deploy for other priorities by having documents submitted in digital form.

4. Legal fees and settlements

Lawsuits related to tenure and promotion decisions are one of every administrators’ worst nightmares. Even when the institution wins, legal fees can quickly mount to six-figure sums.

Outcomes of P&T-related lawsuits often hinge on whether or not the university can document that the right steps were followed in the evaluation process and that candidates received clear communications about expectations and requirements. Having a system that documents all information centrally and allows leaders to access that documentation quickly and easily is critical.

The best cost-saving strategy, however, is focusing not on prevailing in lawsuits but preventing them. To do this, central and college-level administrators need to be able to see the status of all pending cases to identify any that have stalled and take action to ensure compliance with timelines of campus policies and labor bargaining agreements. Administrators also need to have instant access to information to address candidate questions about fairness and formal grievances, including the date of initiation and completion of each review step and the composition of each committee involved in evaluation.

Assess your school’s practices

Interested in bringing down the administrative cost and time involved in faculty promotion and tenure review at your institution? Use this free best practices checklist to see how your processes compare to what the most progressive colleges and universities are doing.