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

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, with tips on how professors can navigate COVID-19 and support their students.

My hope is that this post finds you and your family healthy and well. Like most of you, my life took a drastic turn in the last two weeks with the onset of and response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Through my various conversations with colleagues on Twitter and Facebook, many of us professors are trying to figure out how to balance transitioning our classes online along with the other professorial responsibilities. In addition, we’re navigating how to manage our familial responsibilities. Given this new reality for the foreseeable future, I wanted to provide some ways that I am approaching this transition as faculty.

Check-in and assess students’ access to resources to complete online courses

In response to the need of social distancing to combat COVID-19, a majority of universities have suspended face-to-face classes and have asked faculty to shift their courses online. Unfortunately this response did not account for the realities of college students. For instance, some students experience various external insecurities (e.g., housing, food, etc.) that can hinder their access to the resources (e.g., personal computer, reliable Internet) needed to succeed in an online learning environment. As a result, it is important that as concerned faculty we ask our students some important questions such as:

  • Are you and your family safe?
  • Do you have access to a personal computer at home to complete assignments?
  • Do you have access to reliable Internet?

As we switch our classes online, I believe we must see the humanity in our students and make sure that what we are proposing for our online class is appropriate for the needs of all of our students.

Scale back on course requirements

I know many of us believe our courses are important. As a result, I have seen some dialogue on Twitter that faculty are looking to transition their courses online and keep the rigorous requirements of the original course. If you are thinking about this, I would urge you to consider scaling back on course requirements.

Our students’ lives have drastically changed in the last few weeks. Some students left campus for spring break and have not been allowed to return. And the uncertainty remains, as the situation is ever-evolving. As concerned faculty we have the academic freedom to scale back our course requirements. Given the unique circumstances, scaling back not only helps our students, but helps us as faculty as we too have been tasked with developing an online course with a week or two notice.

Curtail your thoughts about productivity

While this pandemic has changed the modality we use to teach our classes, unfortunately for many on the tenure track specifically, the tenure clock continues to tick. However, given the drastic changes that have occurred not only in our professional lives, but also our personal lives like having school-aged children home during the workday, potentially taking care of relatives, and managing this traumatic experience with COVID-19, we must have an honest conversation about what productivity should look like.

In many conversations on Twitter I have seen academics discussing how they will use this time of limited mobility to complete projects. While admirable, I hope too that we can agree to not put pressure on ourselves to be as productive during this time as we were before our lives changed.

To aid in supporting pre-tenure faculty, some universities have provided one-year tenure track period extensions; however, this is not at all institutions. My urge to university administrators is to provide your tenure track faculty with an automatic tenure track extension and allow faculty to apply for tenure promotion during their normal timeline if they should choose to.

How are you all handling transitioning your classes and balancing your personal and professional lives? What are some other tips during COVID-19 for professors? Do you have materials you can share with colleagues on creating online courses? I would love to hear from you on Twitter. I hope that we can support one another during this unprecedented time. 

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

At Interfolio, the health and well-being of our clients, their academic communities, and our employees are always a top priority.  As we navigate the rapidly evolving global COVID-19 situation together, here you can find the various actions and precautions Interfolio is taking to serve the higher education community throughout these challenging times. 

We have been and will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation, making decisions based on feedback from the UK Department of Health and Social Care, Centers for Disease Control, and World Health Organization, in addition to guidance from local government entities. Our planning and decision-making is centered on current information; of course, we will continue to provide additional information and updates as necessary and appropriate. 

Providing continued service and product performance

Interfolio has already taken action to ensure consistency and connectivity of our products and services during this time. 

  1. At this time, we are continuing with normal business operations in the UK and the US—our cloud-based software solutions remain consistent and available, as well as our extensive security, monitoring, and controls.
  2. All Interfolio teams will remain vigilant and on-schedule, primed to address your needs and expectations.
  3. We have encouraged our employees to work remotely to ensure that we are mitigating any health issues that may arise during this time.
  4. The Scholar Services support team will continue their normal support hours:
    1. 9:00am – 8:00pm Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, at help@interfolio.com or (877) 997-8807
  5. Our university partnership team remains available to help you troubleshoot and work through contingency plans as you develop next steps for your campus—online and offline.

Our mission is to provide you with faculty-first technology, enabling you and your institution’s day-to-day success, now more than ever. As we collectively look ahead to next steps, we are here as a constant partner in your planning, support, and success

Resources

We are working with partner organizations to gather and communicate resources you can utilize on your campus. What are some other resources you have found helpful? Are there examples of communication you would like to share with your peers? Do you have any best practices to share around contingency planning? Email them to team@interfolio.com and we will add to this post.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, containing tips on working from home with kids.

With coronavirus lockdowns, quarantines, shelters-in-place, and social isolation situations proliferating across the globe, odds are that most academics with children will end up working from home with kids for stretches of 2020. Hopefully, academic employers will come to see how impossible this is, and (as some already have) relax their standards for tenure and promotion and grad student advancement during this time. In the meantime, here are some tips for ways you can do two demanding jobs at once, without losing your marbles—well, most of them. 

Split care hours into blocks

If you have a fellow caregiver at home, split the day into blocks. Many are finding it easiest to have one parent on duty in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Kids like this kind of predictability, and work goes better when it’s totally separated from caregiving, to whatever degree that’s possible. 

Keep work informed

If you have core work hours when you’ll be expected (or available) to return emails or take calls, be proactive in planning that with your supervisor. For many academics, this kind of proactive planning may involve telling your remote students what hours of the day you can respond to their emails or queries—and then sticking to your policy. 

Make a plan

Meet with your family in the morning and talk about what is going to happen that day: 

  • When the parents will switch (if that applies)
  • When lunch and snacks will be served
  • When outside time will happen (this might be different every day, depending on the weather)
  • When schoolwork will be done

Having a family meeting (many are doing this at breakfast) may be easier for older kids to understand, but even three- and four-year-olds may get a kick out of seeing a visual schedule with drawings of your activities, and derive some reassurance out of knowing what’s happening when. 

If you’re on, you’re on

Make sure that the caregiver who is with the kids is not scanning his or her phone, or trying to work, while they’re on duty—except, maybe, in the case of a work emergency. Kids have a sixth sense for adult distraction. Instead, while you’re “on,” when your younger kids are playing or your older kids are absorbed in schoolwork, find housework that leaves you (in the words of Faith Collins, author of Joyful Toddlers and Preschoolers), “busy but available”—things like cooking, dishwashing, organizing, and laundry. Younger kids can join in if they would prefer that to playing independently. This strategy has the added benefit of allowing you to complete housework during “kid time,” leaving more hours to yourself for work and (hopefully) self-care. 

Take them outside

A walk or backyard time in the late morning can really improve everyone’s mood, including the caregiver who’s acting as shepherd. This way, childcare time can double as self-care, which will improve your state of mind when you do get to sit down to work. 

Quiet time

For some families with slightly older children, this idea may be hard to re-implement, but if you have a preschooler or kindergartener who no longer naps, try to create a tradition of “quiet time” after lunch. Set them up with activities—books, stickers, audiobooks or podcasts—and let them know that everyone in the house will be in their room for a little while every day after lunch. If you have an “ok to wake” clock or nightlight that changes colors (like this one), you can use that system to let them know when they can come out. Expand the time you expect them to be in their room as time goes on; some people find they can get up to an hour and a half of quiet this way. 

Physical separation

Do everything you can to put a door between yourself and your child while you are trying to work. Can you put a heater in a three-season sunroom and wrap your legs in a blanket? Can you carve out a desk area in the basement, even if it’s a little dank down there? It’s worth it! If you absolutely can’t close a door, try a visual cue like wearing a hat or glasses to let the child know that you are “on” and aren’t to be bugged. The caregiver in charge then has to be completely on top of the task of keeping the children away from the working parent; this part may not come naturally, but it’s key. 

Your own distraction

The world is a mess right now, and it’s very hard not to waste work time reading Twitter and texting. Use a program like Freedom for Mac to keep your social media and news-reading time to a minimum. 

Screens

Especially if you’re caregiving for younger children all alone, you may not be able to avoid doling out more Paw Patrol than you normally would. That’s fine! We are in a ridiculous situation. We can do what we need to do. 

What other tips do you have for working from home with kids right now? How are you managing (and hopefully) finding balance?