Digital transformation

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
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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.