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Online faculty evaluations and committee work: 3 critical short-term steps

COVID-19 | Topics in Higher Education

COVID-19 has created a new set of challenges for higher education institutions, including a need to handle faculty professional reviews online. But COVID-19 is not the first time colleges and universities have seen a need to move their faculty advancement workflows online. Interfolio has helped many academic institutions of all sizes and types make this transition. 

If you are involved in faculty reviews as a committee member or chair, staff member, or in an administrative position, here are a few guiding points to successfully conduct these processes online.

The three critical steps you should consider at this stage are:

  1. Use the cloud!
  2. Map out access restrictions for current cases
  3. Provide final reviewers (e.g. provost) with a list of remaining cases/statuses

Step 1: Use the cloud!

Our first tip is really a dutiful reminder, because it is so important: back up everything important online. Hopefully your institution’s IT office is vocal about this.

When you first start to move processes online that previously took place on paper and in person (or even if digital files were stored on someone’s individual computer), it’s very easy to be inconsistent about backup and documentation habits.

But in a scenario where you are handling sensitive information like the professional reviews of faculty members (or any employees, of course), you must establish a practice by which electronic records are made in the first place, and then are backed up online.

Make sure that the materials, data, and metadata involved in these decisions are systematically and routinely captured via a secure cloud platform. It is the way of modern organizations.

Many of your higher education peers have successfully navigated this transition, and we are here to be a resource. But we will note that a failure to adequately document both A) that candidate and committee data was stored securely, and B) that an institutional process was followed, is at the heart of one of our oft-downloaded research pieces, Equity and Legal Risk in Tenure Review

Especially for your short-term needs, this is very solvable with modern technology. 

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Step 2: Map out access restrictions for current cases (remaining steps)

It’s mid-March. In your faculty review cases of various kinds, what official steps remain? Is that clearly written down somewhere?

At Interfolio, we talk a lot about planning for sustainable, repeatable, templatized processes. We have various white papers about it. Noble goal! 

But let’s set the long-term aside for the moment.

Consider blocking off an hour, either by yourself (if you are the faculty dossier manager) or with your colleagues who are generally familiar with different review schedules, to sit down and map out each official step remaining in the faculty personnel processes for this academic year. 

If you’re not using a system that maps this out automatically, go ahead and draw it on paper, in a basic Powerpoint slide, or Word document.

The purpose of this exercise is to prevent extra delays, or accidental violations of process, between now and the finish line.

For each step remaining for each type of review, write down: 

  • ACCESS: Which individuals must have access to the case materials and information at this step?
  • NO ACCESS: Is there anyone who especially must not have access at this step?
  • CANDIDATE: What new information or correspondence does the faculty member who is being reviewed need at this step?
  • ADDITIONS: What new materials or information (such as a signed or stamped letter) must be added to the case at this step?
  • TRANSFER METHOD: When this step is complete, how will the case move to the next step?

In your particular process, maybe there are additional questions that apply at every step. Modify as you need.

In the short term, the amount of work involved in this exercise should be manageable. The heart of this step is to make sure that you’ve thought it out now, so that in two weeks, you don’t have an inconvenient realization.

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Step 3: Provide final reviewers (e.g. provost) with a list of remaining cases/statuses to plan for time-sensitive workload

These processes can bottleneck when there is one committee or individual who needs to put their eyes on each case. 

We know that these challenging times are equally affecting all roles. In addition to those of you who are working in administrative and chair roles to keep the wheels turning, we do sympathize so much with senior academic leaders at higher education institutions under the current circumstances.

To enable those final, top-level entities to prepare for their role in reviewing and signing off on faculty cases, try to compile a list of all the formal academic review cases that are going to need their attention and give it to them well ahead of time. 

On this list, it may help them if you can note:

  • (Of course) The faculty member’s name, current appointment(s), and academic division or department
  • The type of case—whether it’s tenure, a promotion, an annual or merit review, or a leave request
  • The status of the case at the moment, especially which committee it’s currently with

Also, just as a helpful presentation choice, it will help if you list them in some intentional order—either the sequence in which these final reviewers will likely receive them, or perhaps in order of their deadlines (in case that’s different). Or even simply listed by review type.

You probably don’t need to color-code them—unless you have a huge quantity of cases for these final steps. Then consider the highlighter.

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Interfolio is committed to helping the global faculty affairs community and academic leadership continue to play their pivotal role throughout these changing circumstances. 

If you have questions about moving higher education operations online or business continuity in these trying times, we welcome inquiries or conversation at team@interfolio.com