Provost lays out more ways for tenure-seeking faculty to prove teaching excellence

GW’s top academic leader said he is searching for more “systematic” ways to evaluate professors up for tenure, looking beyond student evaluations to judge the quality of their teaching.

Provost Steven Lerman said he wants decision-makers, administrators and departments to have as much information as possible before the University makes a “lifetime commitment” to a professor. The ability to gauge teaching quality will be key as GW sees a record number of faculty apply for tenure in the next few years.

“I decided this year to systematize it more, to give the chairs more leeway and to give them more ways in which they could demonstrate the teaching obligations of their faculty,” he said.

Improving the metrics of evaluating professors has been a priority for members of GW’s Teaching and Learning Collaborative, which recommended that administrators consider student letters or observations by other faculty members when judging teacher quality.

Faculty applying for tenure are required to provide a statement about their teaching and prove how they are effective teachers, how they plan to improve and how they have impacted their department or discipline.

They are also required to provide a portfolio with student evaluations and five letters from faculty outside the University.

When a faculty member is granted tenure, GW is typically committing to employ them for about 30 years, which is about a $2 million investment. Faculty are also judged on their research and service to the University, but Lerman said research can be easier to quantify and that service is not typically a major component of tenure review.

In an effort to raise the quality of teaching and research at the University, administrators have offered more tenure-track positions in recent years. Last year, 79 percent of full-time faculty were tenure track or already tenured, an all-time high for GW.

Rahul Simha, a computer science professor and chair of the University’s Teaching and Learning Collaborative, said having more standardized review procedures, including more peer evaluations, would make evaluations more fair.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative designed a plan for senior faculty reviewing junior faculty’s classes that Simha said would ensure the same level of rigor across departments.

“I think that to the extent that the process is standardized, that’s helpful, because it helps make comparisons and review easier and more effective,” Simha said.

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