This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, with a focus on five insights to consider when selecting a mentor.

As a higher education faculty or staff member, administrator, or other higher education leader, mentorship is critical to our professional development and growth. In conversations with colleagues, we frequently discuss that we are constantly recommended to find mentors, but not given much advice on what to look for in a mentor. Therefore, for this post I provide five insights I’ve learned to help you in selecting a mentor.

Seek a genuine connection that’s trustworthy

When seeking a mentor it is imperative that you find someone who you trust and can build a genuine connection with. While this is not directly related to the technical aspects of mentoring, I find it hard to be supported by someone who you have no connection with and you feel is not trustworthy. 

What does trustworthy look like to me? I am referring to an individual who is always able to keep your best interests at heart and they’re someone who you can confide in without your conversations being discussed with others. From my experience, you can learn about someone and their character through the current individuals they mentor. Are those individuals satisfied with their mentor/mentee relationship? Sometimes asking other mentees will give you insight into someone you are seeking to be mentored by.

They’re willing to listen, along with give advice

Some of the best mentors I’ve had are those who are willing to listen in addition to giving advice. Listening is an important skill when cultivating a mentoring relationship, and you should look for a mentor who seeks to understand your unique situation and then provides advice tailored to your needs. If you find that you are developing a relationship with a mentor who does not listen to you and your experience, seek another mentor. This one-sided relationship may eventually lead to frustration. Plus, who wants a mentor that isn’t interested in supporting their personal career journey or growth?

Seek someone who will commit time to mentor

As professionals, our lives are pulled in a variety of directions and priorities. I think it’s fair to say that there is often a shortage of time, but when seeking a mentor, it is important to find someone who is willing to find and spend the time mentoring you. I have witnessed a number of individuals who want to be mentored by a recognized name in their field and have found—in some cases—that these mentor relationships do not blossom because the mentor does not have enough time to devote to the mentee. Therefore, I would recommend that you find a mentor who commits the time to interact with you to develop a mentorship.

Find a willingness to provide critical feedback

In order to grow professionally, it is important to have mentors who will push you outside your comfort zone. When looking for a mentor, seek someone who is willing to provide critical feedback. My advice here is to also develop a team of mentors who can provide critical feedback on various aspects of your career such as job and funding applications and interview preparation.

Remember, you also bring value to the mentor

Interestingly, we often seek mentors because they bring us value in a variety of ways. However, when seeking out a mentor, I am always looking for someone that I too can provide value and advice to. This is especially important to me—being a genuine mentor takes time and energy—and I always want my mentors to know that I value them. For instance, one of my mentors suggested we work on a special issue of a journal on a particular topic together.  I leveraged our conversation, went and spoke with a journal editor that I had a relationship with from meeting at an academic conference, and turned the idea into a special issue! My mentor and I served as co-editors on this journal issue, and subsequently are planning a co-edited book. Our mentor relationship has brought us both value!

What do you look for in a mentor? Feel free to send me your responses via Twitter so that we can continue this conversation!


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.

Under the constraints of COVID-19, how are higher education institutions handling faculty personnel processes digitally? What are the traits of a well-prepared institution, and what aspects are most critical to success in a digital transformation of faculty affairs? And what lessons will academic employers carry with them even after the crisis recedes?

Interfolio recently facilitated a digital roundtable conversation asking forward-thinking leaders from a diverse combination of universities to address how they’re currently handling academic personnel processes in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. 

With discussion among academic and administrative leaders at East Stroudsburg University, Vanderbilt University, Tulane University, American College of Education, and University College London, the roundtable event painted an encouraging picture of higher education’s prospects for a digital transformation around faculty affairs.

Online faculty evaluations (and other digital personnel processes) already in place

First of all, it was clear these institutions’ embrace of digital processes for faculty work had put them in a better position to handle the pandemic before it even began.

Several panelists actively pointed out the value of this head start—among them Danielle Certa, Assistant Director of Faculty Appointments in the Office of the Vice Provost at Vanderbilt University; Alysia Loshbaugh, Assistant Vice President for Business Relationship Management at Tulane University; and Nina Seppala, Deputy Director of Academic Affair at University College London.

These institutions’ shift to digital faculty personnel processes some years earlier meant that the administrative routines around faculty work—especially review, promotion, and tenure—faced relatively little need for change or adjustment as a result of the COVID-19 circumstances.

And this modern digital framework for faculty affairs, they stressed, applies not only in crisis scenarios, but as a sustainable daily approach to processes like hiring, activity data maintenance, tenure and promotion candidacy, and committee work.

“Resistance to change is a bit of a luxury”

A recurring theme was the importance of thoughtful change management around faculty technology.

While adopting new technology is hardly painless, several panelists pointed out that it is a perennial workplace phenomenon. And higher education, while distinctive in many ways, is no exception.

“Resistance to change is a bit of a luxury, I think,” said Certa (Vanderbilt), “and I think that people now recognize that we no longer have that privilege. We have to change; we have to adapt. We keep hearing, over and over again, that there’s no going back to the way it was before, so let’s put things in place that will continue to help us move forward. Doing as much as we can digitally is the way to go.”

Speaking of the piles of 3-ring binders historically used for faculty promotion and tenure cases, Bajor (East Stroudsburg) advised: “We do not need to continue to recognize the permanence of this [paper-based] practice as the sole means for evaluating faculty talent. It’s not stated anywhere in the collective bargaining agreement, and it’s not the best method of assessing everyone’s talent.”

A key component of successful change management around faculty technology is communication, as several panelists mentioned.

When it comes to change, ventured Loshbaugh (Tulane), there is no such thing as communicating too much. She emphasized the need for an internal communications strategy, and high volume of communications, to effectively reach the people on campus whose workplace routines you want to change.

And Natalie Pelham, Senior Director of Training and Development at the American College of Education, gave the example of the dozens of self-guided training resources their institution had provided. These specialized materials walk all academic employees through how to do the full scope of their job online.

“Little treasure chests of data”

When it came to advice the panelists would give to institutions considering a move to a faculty information system, the panelists stressed the importance of consulting the right people on campus.

Seppala (University College London) spoke of the highly positive experience she had had when pursuing an innovative and non-traditional use case for their digital platform (Interfolio Faculty Search) that their institution’s situation called for.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for something that doesn’t seem to be in the system,” encouraged Seppala, “because it might be possible.”

Certa (Vanderbilt) advised peers considering the move to a faculty information system to thoroughly interview the individuals on campus who, historically, handle data and paperwork around faculty hiring, tenure, promotion, CVs, and activity reporting.

“It’s very likely,” said Certa, “that all of your areas are keeping little treasure chests of data that they have developed over time… And these might not be higher-level people in the unit. This might be your boots-on-the-ground administrative assistant.”

Faculty rising to the occasion

Overall, all panelists emphatically praised the spirit of giving and goodwill exhibited by faculty, staff, and leadership on their campus during this time.

“I can’t tell you how many faculty members have leveraged this time of crisis to become absolutely fantastic online educators,” says Bajor (East Stroudsburg).

When we asked the panel what the least challenging thing has been, all panelists said some version of “working together as a team.” In various ways, they reported, faculty and staff have displayed admirable flexibility and collaboration, regarding both their student-facing and administrative responsibilities.

“I must say,” said Seppala (University College London), “I just feel that our faculty and our professional services staff have been very flexible, and they’ve been doing more than we ever expected… There’s been a lot of goodwill and effort on the part of our faculty as well as our admin team.”

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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 by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, containing advice on how to support grad students, now more than ever.

American grad students, who are already living on small stipends and facing soft job markets, have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Access to research materials is difficult, with labs and libraries closed and travel curtailed for the foreseeable future. Students with caregiving responsibilities may find themselves with very little time to work with the materials they do have with them. And in many fields, thanks to hiring freezes, the job market has gone from “pretty bad, but you might swing something, if you’re lucky” to apocalyptic—adding a new layer of fear to their pandemic experience. Yet many report that they don’t feel supported by their departments at this time. What can you, a faculty member who works with grad students, do to help?

Don’t assume that “grad student” = young and unencumbered 

If you think of grad students as cloistered and research-driven—garret-dwelling or lab-bound,  without much of a life beyond their work—it might seem that, for them, the pandemic is simply a fine time to get a lot done, without those pesky happy hours interfering. But that’s not necessarily the case. We’ve all heard the famous “Isaac Newton invented calculus while hiding out from the plague” story, but that story isn’t entirely true—and besides, Isaac Newton had no toddlers. Grad students may be caring for children, parents, or sick family members; some may have more time to work, but some may have way less. 

Try to provide as much clarity as you can 

Some of the worst impacts on grad students seem to be related to confusion around expectations. 

  • Some STEM grad students don’t know if they’re supposed to be physically present in their labs
  • Humanities grad students don’t know whether they’ll be given extensions on their funding packages
  • Nobody knows what will happen with the job market in 2021

Several of these unknowns are true unknowns, and some could be clarified by institutions. 

Reporting for Inside Higher Ed, Colleen Flaherty wrote that many departments want to be clearer with their students, but don’t, themselves, have clarity from administrations on what’s going to be expected of grad students during this time. If that’s the case, faculty should try to let grad students know that they are aware of these questions, and that the department is pushing to get them answered ASAP.

Try to make extensions and allowances standard

As with so many things related to the impact of the coronavirus, the impacts on individual grad students are going to be very hard to quantify. It might be better to simply adopt a universal policy relating to coronavirus disruptions, than to make people account in a granular way for what’s happened to them during this strange period. 

Jan Tattenberg, a doctoral student in history at the University of Oxford, argued that systems like his department’s—they require students to log how they spent their time during the pandemic in order to petition for extensions based on harm done to research and productivity—fail to take into account the mental health impacts of isolation during a global pandemic.

“I will lose work time because I will wonder if any of it is worth it, given the state of the world right now,” he tweeted. “I will lose work time because I miss my friends. And I don’t know how I quantify any of this. Or if any of it would be accepted.” 

Consider their immediate financial need

Finally, programs should appreciate the wrench the pandemic has thrown into plans that students may have put in place to support themselves during the summer break—a notably bad time for grad school funding, in the best of years. If there is a way to use institutional funds to provide short-term teleworking jobs, or simple grants in aid, to students who need summer coverage, it should be considered. “Individual faculty,” Duke professor Gabriel Rosenberg suggested in a tweet, “who have fungible research funds previously earmarked for (now impossible) travel and archival work should consider creating and self-funding flexible RAships”—especially if those funds have expiration dates. 

What are some ways you are supporting graduate students right now? Share with us on Twitter.

Across higher education, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown academic affairs and faculty development offices the value of online faculty evaluation systems and personnel processes. 

Obviously, the current circumstances are still forcing a range of very immediate needs to be addressed around the continuity of daily operations at academic institutions. 

However, once immediate continuity needs are somewhat settled, many college and university leaders may now be considering how to achieve a digital transformation around faculty affairs in the longer term. Interfolio has helped many higher education institutions make this transition.

If you are considering how you can successfully and securely manage faculty review workflows online going forward, here are a few early factors to consider:

  1. Audit your faculty review types
  2. Assess how centralized (or not) your processes are today
  3. Assemble the right team
Download our free white paper on evaluating new systems for promotion and tenure:

A Note: Pairing Data with Academic Personnel Decisions

Intentionally, this post focuses on considerations around faculty review, promotion, and tenure workflows—that is, bringing the classic three-ring binder online successfully.

Yet the decision workflow is just one piece of bringing faculty affairs online. Clearly, there is a natural connection between conducting reviews of scholar accomplishments and your institution’s overall handling of faculty activity data. 

You can certainly focus just on what’s needed to get up and running online soon with the formal review processes—many of our clients have done that. 

However, you will see the most far-reaching benefits if you also bring CV information into a devoted faculty data hub. That way, your formal review cases can simply draw upon the existing data and materials in the system. If you’d like to learn more, a great starting point is our free white paper on data in faculty affairs.

Factor 1: Audit your faculty evaluation and review types

Even if your current focus is on complicated, labor-intensive types of faculty evaluations, it would be valuable to consider the broader picture for your future success. 

Before you get too far in your planning, we recommend you make time to list out all the types of academic professional reviews that take place at your institution. Briefly note down which people or offices are involved in each process today. 

Here is a sample list of situations that require formal reviews of scholars’ information and materials:

  • Appointment
  • Reappointment
  • Annual review
  • Tenure
  • Promotion
  • Merit reviews
  • Sabbatical and travel leave
  • Funding and fellowship applications

Of course, in your list, it is best to use the actual terms that your own institution uses—you should not end up having to change them even when you go digital. 

If you approach the solution as not just “taking tenure online,” but rather start to see all faculty professional review scenarios as online activities—because they can be!—you will get the most mileage out of whatever solution you arrive at.

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Factor 2: Assess how centralized (or decentralized) your processes are today

Almost all colleges and universities have a “master” faculty handbook that governs the universal policies around professional reviews of teaching and research faculty members. 

However, beyond that universal handbook, academic institutions differ widely from one another in terms of such aspects as:

  • School-/college-specific requirements
  • Discipline-specific materials
  • Committee evaluation process
  • How involved the candidate is
  • How much information needs to be collected

To understand how centralized (or not) your institution is, you may need to draw out high-level flowcharts for each of your major academic units, such as a school, college, or division. 

Sometimes there is much more variation between academic units than anyone at the top assumed. In other cases, faculty reviews are much more similar between units than the faculty affairs director would have guessed. 

The degree of centralization influences the questions you’ll need to answer, including file type requirements, the need for fielded form data versus uploaded documents, and the transparency needed for faculty candidates.

In Interfolio’s work on taking faculty evaluations online at various higher education institutions, we have found that this “mapping” exercise frequently leads to discoveries that have real impact on the digital transformation effort. 

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Factor 3: Assemble the right team

In order to make a successful transition to online faculty professional reviews, you’re going to need to secure buy-in from a lot of people—including faculty, leaders, and staff. In order to do that, you’ll need a core team of champions in the right positions across campus. 

You don’t need to set your entire team in stone from square one. But you will want to have an idea of who could occupy the following roles:

Project leader (visionary). There needs to be at least one person who is really driving the change forward, maintaining a clear sense of where your school needs to move “from” and “to.” The majority of the time, this is someone in faculty affairs or the provost’s/dean’s office who is explicitly tasked with faculty development or tenure. Or someone else, as long as they really believe in the unique needs of faculty reviews. If this topic really speaks to you… you might be this person!

Institutional implementation lead (Power user!). You’ll need someone who has great first-hand familiarity with the processes as they are today. This person makes sure that all the new technical actions and tools truly meet your practical needs. Often this is someone in a manager or coordinator role in the academic leadership offices (faculty affairs, provost, dean), but it may also be someone in the library, HR, or occasionally IT. Regardless, they must relate to the faculty perspective.

Executive sponsor. This person has the visibility and the authority to show the whole institution—when the time comes—that:

  • This transition is real
  • It matters and is really worth it
  • We are doing it

Often, this is the provost or an associate provost. Identifying and recruiting a strong executive sponsor early on in this process is absolutely essential for faculty, staff, and peer administrators to ultimately embrace the transition.

Institutional technical lead. This is someone in IT who has the familiarity and the authority to ask the right questions and solve potential technical roadblocks. They need not be the CIO/CTO, but they must realize the value of making the change to online faculty reviews and activity data.

Ultimately, other people will get involved. But, as one Interfolio trainer at a major public research university told us: “Start the process as early as possible. I really don’t think it’s too soon to communicate and get out there the idea that change is coming.”

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Thinking about online faculty reviews, data, or appointment management next year? Start with our free white paper on evaluating promotion and tenure systems, and contact us soon with any questions.

View our other COVID-19 resources for faculty and higher ed.

We are pleased to announce that Faculty Information Systems were included as one of the “Top 10 Strategic Technologies Impacting Higher Education in 2020” in a recently released Gartner research report.

Interfolio continues to see strong adoption rates and near-universal renewal among institutions using its unique Faculty Information System, which provides holistic, scholar-first capabilities to support the full academic lifecycle. Gartner’s research points to the Faculty Information System as a strategic technology investment for institutions, noting that “institutions that lack the ability to accurately and quickly leverage faculty information run the risk of falling behind competitors that can use this information to obtain greater research funding and heightened reputation, among other things.”

As higher education faces additional pressure and faculty embrace a shifting role, institutions are looking for solutions built specifically to address and streamline the complex challenges facing the faculty workforce. Higher education leaders need to articulate the collective impact and expertise of faculty to students, funders, communities, and other stakeholders.

FISs identified as a Top 10 Strategic Technology 

Gartner’s research points to Faculty Information Systems as a strategic technology investment for institutions, noting that

“institutions with robust FIS functionality will also gain insights to drive efficiencies and effectiveness by optimizing this valuable HR and key capability in the higher education business model.”

Coupled with the strong market growth we’ve seen, we believe Gartner’s research provides powerful validation of Faculty Information Systems and the strategic capabilities that FISs provide to help institutions support faculty and foster greater trust, transparency, and collaboration.

The research from Gartner found that “in many ways, FISs represent a new category of system, especially when considered as a collection of different tools and modules. They represent a growing need and interest in tracking all aspects of faculty data. These systems will enable the institution to maintain a single source of truth for faculty members on their credentials, careers, teaching, research and support aspects of faculty personnel administration.” 

Faculty drive every aspect of Institutional strategy and success from tuition and funded research revenues, associated costs, student success, governance, equity, reputation and rank; Interfolio’s FIS makes visible the contributions of faculty to enable institutional success while creating significant efficiencies.

Looking ahead 

For more than two decades, Interfolio has developed groundbreaking technology to support faculty at every phase of their academic careers. More than 700,000 scholars worldwide use Interfolio’s Dossier to track and manage academic materials. Over 100,000 researchers have found jobs, and 80,000 have completed a review or gained a promotion using Interfolio in the last 20 years.

In the coming year, Interfolio will continue to focus on greater interoperability between the Faculty Information System and its newest product, Lifecycle Management, which allows for strategic management of faculty appointments. The company will also launch new reporting and analytics capabilities to unlock modern insights into faculty data contained in the Faculty Information System and demonstrate the impact of faculty and institutions.

Gartner, “Top 10 Strategic Technologies Impacting Higher Education in 2020,” March 2020


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The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced your institution to delay (or freeze) hiring for the near future for open administrative, staff, or even faculty positions. In these times, you are likely, by necessity, to be carefully considering the academic personnel needs at your college or university.

And academic leaders everywhere are assessing how best to handle remote hiring (or other selective academic personnel decisions)—in a time when meeting in person, or even using campus hardware, is not possible.

Luckily, since long before COVID-19 happened, Interfolio has been helping colleges and universities to achieve a digital transformation around their academic hiring and data gathering.

Here, we discuss a few essential guidelines your office should follow when considering a move to online academic recruitment, fellowships, and other competitive processes in higher education. 

The guidelines are:

  1. Ease for committees/reviewers is essential
  2. It’s best to compile data reporting needs and priorities in advance 
  3. Letters of recommendation should be automated

Guideline 1: Ease of reviewing materials is essential

The practical experience of evaluating many applications in a row is an absolutely central aspect of academic recruitment to bear in mind.

Yet, oddly, this is a basic need that can slip out of sight during your digital transformation, amidst conversations with IT, HR, provost and dean’s offices, and the institutional diversity office. Don’t let it!

The page-by-page application review experience will make or break your transition to online faculty hiring. (Just ask Millikin University or Notre Dame.)

Regardless of whether a decision is made by committee or by a simpler administrative review, academic applications are much larger and complicated than the applications for most staff positions. They have many pages, many different kinds of documents, and in many fields, images and multimedia.

As you undertake a digital transformation around selective processes, you must keep sight of the people evaluating the applications. Ask yourself: “How will they reach good decisions under this online hiring model?”

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Guideline 2: It’s best to compile data reporting needs and priorities in advance

In parallel to the goal of actually handling the search and decision process around academic hiring, you will want visibility into a variety of data points after the fact.

It is critical to compile your list of desired data points, beginning early on in your digital transformation effort. Have at least a brief check-in with your institutional diversity, HR, and institutional research offices to make sure you have your bases covered.

Here are a few sample data points around academic hiring that you should consider:

  • Self-reported diversity/demographic information (following federal EEO Commission guidelines)
  • Quantitative ranking of applicants by reviewers, based on standard criteria
  • Other applicant profile information:
    • Highest degree earned; date earned; granting institution
    • Country and state of residence
  • Dates:
    • Position open and close
    • Submission per application
  • Withdrawn applications
  • Other data on positions offered
    • Rank
    • Title
    • Tenure-track or not
    • Full-time or part-time
  • Disposition code (i.e. “Why was this applicant or group of applicants removed from consideration?”)

Keeping this checklist at hand during your digital transformation will help you make sure that, in your new online academic hiring model, you’re able to capture and view all this information later.

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Guideline 3: Letters of recommendation should be automated

Handling confidential letters of recommendation, in an efficient and responsible way, is one of the biggest burdens on administrative time around academic hiring.

In 2020, you do not have to settle for a manual process around recommendation letters in higher education. You should see this as a given in your digital transformation.

This is because letters are a specific bottleneck that make a big difference in the overall flow of recruitment and competitive selection at your college or university. Of course, it is up to the committee, department or institution (not Interfolio) to decide where recommendation letters should fall in the process.

You should expect your automated solution will accommodate all of the following:

  • Either the applicant or the committee should be able to request a letter online.
  • Intended confidentiality status should be clearly marked prior to letter submission.
    • Once submitted, the letter file should be kept confidential from the applicant before, during, and after submission of the application.
    • Also, it should be possible for the applicant to supply a letter held confidentially via their dossier service.
  • The letter should go directly into the proper application (still confidentially). However, the applicant should be able to submit their application even before the letter is submitted.
  • The applicant must be reasonably prevented from submitting a letter for themselves (and getting away with it).
  • The applicant, the writer, and the institution should receive automatic confirmation when the letter is submitted.

The point is, you should make automating recommendation letters a priority. It will reap big benefits for the efficiency of your process.

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These are starting points. For a more thorough free guide, take a look at our System Considerations for Faculty Hiring.

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

If you are involved in the faculty hiring process in higher education—whether at the department, college, or university level—and you are preparing to move that process online in the wake of COVID-19, here are a few pointers to help it succeed in the short term.

First, we want to acknowledge that it is a challenging time for everyone, which no one could have been fully prepared for. 

Here, our advice is focused more on navigating an unanticipated (but necessary) shift to online faculty hiring this spring. 

And to be most practical, we are really speaking of active hires that may be going on right now—not searches so far out that you might postpone them altogether.

We will note, however, that COVID-19 is hardly the first time that colleges and universities have needed to seek an effective online method for academic recruitment. Interfolio has helped hundreds of academic institutions of all sizes and types move their faculty hiring online in the short and the long term. 

The tips are:

  1. Enforce a single online storage location
  2. If you are still accepting applications, ask for PDFs 
  3. Consider pausing recommendations until really needed (unless already automated)
  4. Establish explicit criteria and collect quantitative ratings

But first: what is success?

When we say “make it successful,” we are talking not just about reaching any hiring decision, and making some offer that is accepted.

Even if you are moving to a new online hiring process that’s unfamiliar to your committees and staff, the integrity, inclusivity, and care of your academic recruitment practices do not have to be compromised.

Whether tenure-track or not, your faculty members are the engine of the academic mission. You want to get faculty hiring right.

Tip 1: Enforce a single online storage location as the only system for this spring’s searches

You want to get organized from this point on, so that you don’t make last-minute discoveries of missing application materials or skipped steps that delay the closing out of a search. 

(This was a significant factor in our work with San Diego State University and The University of Texas at Austin, among many others.)

Whatever system you choose in the short term—whether it’s a technology specifically meant for faculty hiring, or an HR or applicant tracking system, or a free file-sharing system—someone should set aside time to get all applications you have already received into it. Create an organized folder structure. 

If you allow application materials for the same search to remain stored across multiple locations (or even for multiple searches in, say, the same academic division), you actually will spend a lot more time, between now and the end of the search, retrieving documents. 

Whatever up-front time it requires to pull applications into a single location is going to save you more time in the remainder of the searches.

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Tip 2: If you are still accepting applications, update language to require PDF format for all text documents

This is just an easy thing you can do to (hopefully) reduce file type issues, especially for your department staff. Trying to get files to open, convert, or “Save As” eats up a surprising amount of time in the preparation of files for the committee to review. 

As a favor to applicants (and to lower the bar so everyone will do this), consider even linking out to a set of common PDF conversion instructions, as part of your faculty job posting. Your IT office might have one.

To be sure, disciplines that rely heavily on multimedia, such as arts, architecture, and computer science, will still be accepting other file types. Those committees may well have their own professional opinions about which file types are the best practice for their field.

But when it comes to any text documents such as CVs, publications, personal statements, teaching evaluations, and confidential letters of recommendation, PDF is the way to go.

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Tip 3: If confidential recommendation letters aren’t automated already, just pause them until actively needed

The practice of soliciting confidential letters of recommendation is, of course, widely regarded as invaluable to hiring new faculty members that you feel confident about.

However, handling letters of recommendation in an efficient and responsible way is one of the biggest sources of administrative time around faculty hiring for a college or university.

Depending upon where your open positions are at the moment, ask yourself: “What is the latest possible stage in the hiring process where we could require recommendation letters and still meaningfully incorporate them into the decision process?”

If your department or committee does not already have in place, today, a streamlined mechanism for:

  • requesting the letters,
  • receiving them,
  • verifying them,
  • confirming to the sender and the applicant that you got them,
  • adding them into the application,
  • and distributing them to the members of the committee…

… this is one area likely to eat up a lot of logistical time in the coming weeks.

The smaller the pool for which you require letters, the more feasible that coordination is going to be for your staff.

There continues to be abundant healthy debate in higher education about the right way for academic hiring committees to incorporate confidential recommendation letters—in a way that is both valuable for the decision process and humane to the candidates (who are likely applying to many, many positions). 

That’s for the academic community to work out. All we can tell you is, for our many institutions that we’ve worked with for hiring (and the many that are regularly joining), confidential letters are a major pain point, and a big relief when automated or reduced.

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Tip 4: Establish explicit criteria and collect quantitative ratings (alongside qualitative feedback)

Established criteria and a standardized rating system are common enough that your committee or institution may already have a precedent in place. 

When it comes to your committee reaching a good decision in a timely fashion, and reducing the role of implicit bias in that decision, it is a best practice to introduce a standard rating on criteria. (See, for example, Columbia University’s Guide to Best Practices in Faculty Search and Hiring, p. 19.)

Your committee should agree on what the criteria for all applicants should be—for a really basic example, this might be “Teaching,” “Research,” “Service,” and something like, “Professional Growth.” And, if you can manage it, consider writing down some examples for all committees of what you expect to earn a “lowest,” “middle,” and “highest” ranking. 

Then require each committee member to score each applicant with a ranking on each criterion. 

Of course this is not the only or most important aspect of any application. But it is a point of reference to clarify who the real contenders are, and keep the committee focused on the final outcome, which is: “Which of these candidates, if any, will we hire this spring?”

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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

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.

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.