Technology and Tenure

Jay Hill, an assistant professor at Foley State University's School of Education, is a candidate for tenure at FSU. An accomplished teacher and a technology expert, Jay fears that his contributions will not be appreciated by the dean and provost who ultimately control his career. Jay prepares his dossier and seeks the advice of his colleagues.

Jay Hill and Katherine Taylor, faculty at Foley State University’s School of Education, discuss tenure procedures while watching an FSU women’s soccer game.

Although he had a nagging feeling that he should have been working in his office, Jay Hill sat on the grassy slope overlooking Foley State University’s varsity soccer fields. It was a Saturday, after all–a picture-perfect day, the trees on the perimeter of the field showing tinges of yellow and red in their leaves. The women’s team was playing conference rivals Bleeker College.

Women’s soccer player

Jay held the yellow FSU team roster in his hands and looked for the names of his students. Sarah Peterson (#30) and Jeanine Wilks (#7) were both in his foundations of education class, but he did not recognize them among the players on the field. The roster listed Sarah as a sweeper and Jeanine as a forward. Jay could pick out the goalie in her garish long-sleeve jersey–but all the other positions seemed the same.

He gave up on locating his students when another faculty member, Katherine Taylor, approached, pushing a white stroller up the sidewalk. Her infant son was sound asleep, despite the cheering spectators at the game.

Katherine Taylor and son

With each passing day, Jay was increasingly awed by Katherine Taylor. She had been hired by Foley State two years before he had. Already, she had published two widely respected (and widely assigned) books on educational funding and property taxes. She had authored a dozen articles, delivered papers at every imaginable conference, and established a policy symposium that met at Foley State every spring. Katherine was a model professor, an academic Superwoman. She “stopped the clock” two years ago, when her son was born, and promptly earned tenure the following year.

“Hello, Professor Taylor.”

“Professor Hill, good day!”

Jay and Katherine enjoyed speaking to one another with mock formality. They shared an appreciation for the madness of professorial life: the long hours, the low pay, the bureaucracies that often seemed Kafkaesque. In Jay’s first years as an assistant, Katherine was a comrade-in-arms. They endured the same trials–and congratulated one another on their well-earned successes. Jay could not help feeling, though, that he and Katherine now stood on opposite sides of a treacherous divide.

“How’s it going, Jay?” Katherine dropped the formality, and there was genuine concern in her voice. Jay’s tenure materials were due at the end of the week. By noon on Friday, Jay would have to walk into Dean Franklin’s office and deposit his personal statement, his curriculum vitae, his entire dossier.

“It’s going,” Jay answered, afraid to say whether it was going well or poorly. He stood up and put the roster in his back pocket. “Almost done.”

“Good,” she said. “Did you look at that University of Arizona site I told you about?”

“Yeah, it was a big help. Thanks.” Katherine had given Jay the URL of the University of Arizona’s guidelines for preparing tenure dossiers. Although Foley State provided a clear outline of its tenure procedures, it provided very little guidance, otherwise.

See Foley State University’s Promotion and Tenure Policy below:

Click here to see the University of Arizona’s Promotion and Tenure Guidelines

“Jay, you’re going to be fine. You’ve got strong student evaluations. You’ve been the backbone of the Ed School’s technology program for six years. No problem.”

Katherine was a good cheerleader, and Jay appreciated it. Her summation was a little too simplistic, though.

“Katherine, we both know that student evaluations don’t matter a whit unless they’re abysmal. The only way I can make it through this is if I can convince the committee that my work in technology is valid, that all my work has helped my students be better learners, that it’s not just smoke and mirrors.”

The soccer fans cheered, and Jay and Katherine started clapping instinctively. Did someone score a goal?

Katherine pushed the stroller back and forth, rocking her sleeping boy. “I know you’re scared that the older faculty members won’t appreciate the value of your work,” she said. “If you can explain your work simply, they’ll understand.”

Jay shook his head. “Dean Franklin doesn’t even read his email. His secretary handles it for him. Did you know that? The people in charge of my fate are not exactly tech-savvy.”

“Jay, you’ve completely altered the way teaching and scholarship are defined here. You’re brave–and your committee will appreciate that.”

“There’s a fine line between brave and stupid,” Jay joked. He knew that Katherine was right, so why did he sound like a defeatist?

“You know, maybe you should talk to Thomas Blaylock in the physics department. I think he has been a referee for a few tenure cases like yours,” Katherine offered.

“It’s a little late, but it can’t hurt,” Jay said. “I’ll email him on Monday.”

They both clapped as the first half of the soccer game ended. Foley State 2, Bleeker 0.

Scene: Jay Hill assembles his dossier and fields email messages.

Jay did his best to maintain an “open-door policy” for his students. This week, though, there were just too many things to do, so he closed his door and tried to tune out the drone of students talking in the halls.

Ten black binders were stacked on his desk. Each contained a print copy of his online foundations of education text. Jay had to smile at the irony: he created his online text because he thought that traditional texts were too bland and boring. Now he had to repackage his site into bland and boring notebooks so that it would be “more accessible” to his committee members.

Jay’s Digital Foundations of Education had modest beginnings. During his first year at Foley State, he emailed his students with URLs that complemented each chapter in the standard text he was using. At the end of the fall semester, student evaluations indicated that students were learning more from the World Wide Web than from the text. During the spring semester, Jay built all of the URLs into a single web site. That summer, he wrote his own foundations of education chapters and posted them on the site. Jay steadily added pictures, video, sound clips, and new URLs to the site. He asked his students to complete two multimedia projects per semester, and he incorporated the best projects into the online text. The text was always changing; it was a dynamic platform that featured the most interesting approaches to the (often stale) subject matter that most foundations texts offered.

Most recently, Jay added online quizzes and discussion groups to his Digital Foundations of Education site. He also introduced an internal mail system that permitted students to send weekly writing assignments to him. In a password-protected environment that only he could reach, Jay kept a database with every student’s projects, writing assignments, and grades.

See a portion of Jay Hill’s Digital Foundations of Education text below:

Jay’s Digital Foundations of Education site garnered considerable public attention. It had been featured in two scholarly journals, and faculty at other universities were starting to use the site. Jay’s older colleagues often pulled him aside and told him that he should have written his own standard text, so that he could have collected royalties. Jay was proud of the fact that his site had attracted more than 100,000 hits; he thought this statistic reflected the quality of his work. (Katherine Taylor reminded him that a wise consumer would never mistake McDonald’s “OVER 1 BILLION SERVED” as proof of quality.)

Stacked on his desk next to the ten black binders, Jay also had copies of his c.v., personal statement, and other materials ready for submission. After months of research, he had also compiled a list of possible referees from outside Foley State. He selected professors who worked regularly with technology–but who also possessed solid reputations aside from their technological innovations. Jay hoped that these other academics could vouch for the quality of his scholarly contributions.

Because Jay had authored only a handful of “traditional” scholarly articles, he was counting on the strength of his teaching and the strength of his technological research to get him through the tenure firestorm. Jay had served as the default technology specialist for Foley State’s Education School before the school recruited a full-time specialist and IT staff. He had been instrumental in the search to fill those positions. He also co-chaired FSU’s University Computing Committee, served on a half dozen dissertation committees per year, spearheaded a national online discussion group for technology in education, and even consulted with other university education programs.

See Jay Hill’s curriculum vitae below:

He turned from the stack of tenure materials on his desk and moved his computer’s mouse, awakening the blackened monitor. In two hours, he had amassed seventeen messages:

89 Bob McNergney 10/15/2001 12:23PM ?
90 Melissa Stewart 10/15/2001 12:25PM Re: mid-term
91 Casey Gartland 10/15/2001 12:25PM Fwd: Monday
92 Katie Emmet 10/15/2001 12:31PM questions
93 Jennie Wren 10/15/2001 12:35PM presentation
94 Katherine Taylor 10/15/2001 12:51PM Re: your mail
95 Maya McGinnis 10/15/2001 1:01PM Chapter 12
96 Katherine Taylor 10/15/2001 1:25PM Meeting Oct 22
97 Ronald Ellis 10/15/2001 1:32PM Integration
98 Sarah Peterson 10/15/2001 1:32PM Swann vs. Charlotte-Mecklenberg
99 Tracey Hampton 10/15/2001 1:34PM Dewey
100 Lillis Cutler 10/15/2001 1:40PM ?
101 Leslie Brown 10/15/2001 1:41PM help!
102 Michael Pearson 10/15/2001 2:00PM some thoughts
103 Selena Thompson 10/15/2001 2:13PM
104 Nancy Williams 10/15/2001 2:13PM concerns re: wireless initiative
105 Ed Bowen 10/15/2001 2:21PM Re: concerns re: wireless initiative

Jay immediately opened the message from Michael Pearson, his advisor from graduate school. Michael had been a tough but supportive mentor. As a member of Jay’s dissertation committee, Michael proved to be a ruthless editor–returning each of Jay’s chapters with penciled loops and scratches on every page. Jay learned to treasure any praise from his wizened professor; Michael deemed the best graduate research “fine,” in the purest sense of the word–like fine silk or fine china.

Jay’s spirits sank as he read the message from Michael, who voiced his concern for the tactics Jay planned to employ in the coming days:

Dear Jay,Sorry for the delayed reply. I have given your last message much thought, and I will attempt to phrase my beliefs here, without too much force:

I congratulate you on all the successes you have found in implementing your technology initiatives at Foley State. I hope that your tenure committee will recognize the value you have added to FSU’s School of Education. Realistically, though, I believe that it would be a mistake to stress your digital textbook too much, especially if it appears to eclipse your teaching or research. Let’s face it, Jay: faculty members like me are slow to change. We’re old dogs, and we don’t learn new tricks very quickly. We dislike (even distrust) new tricks.

Your technological work should complement your achievements in teaching and research. When you are preparing your tenure materials, don’t make technology the whole story. Recent history has taught us that tenure committees are wary of records that fall outside the norms of excellence.

Best, Michael

Jay winced. Since graduate school, he had realized that he gave Michael Pearson’s opinions a kind of God-like credence. Jay trusted Michael implicitly, so his criticisms stung all the more sharply. As a distraction–and in hopes of hearing a different point of view–Jay composed a quick message to Thomas Blaylock in the physics department, as Katherine Taylor had suggested:

Dr. Blaylock:My name is Jay Hill, and I am an assistant professor in the School of Education. We met briefly at the President’s reception last month.

If you can spare the time, I would like to speak to you about your past experiences as a tenure referee. I am up for tenure this year, and I believe that your expertise will help me strategize (during the few remaining days before my materials are due).

I will happily come to your office at a time that suits you. Generally, Tuesdays and Thursdays are best for me.

Thank you for your time-

Jay Hill

During the next fifteen minutes, Jay read and answered eleven messages from students who wanted feedback or suggestions for their upcoming mid-term projects. Jay’s students would have to present their research in just a few days. Why did all of his students wait until the last minute to seek help?

To Jay’s surprise, a reply from Thomas Blaylock appeared at the bottom of his incoming messages with a quiet “bling”:

Jay,Tuesday at 2:00PM works for me. See you then.


Scene: Jay Hill visits the office of Thomas Blaylock, an FSU physics professor who is knowledgeable about the role of new technologies in tenure decisions.

At 1:58PM, Jay was waiting outside the door to Thomas Blaylock’s office. The physics building had a strange smell–pungent and vaguely metallic. Jay pictured undergraduates soldering wires to make circuit boards. Do people study electricity in physics departments? All Jay could remember of high school physics was Newton’s three laws of mechanics.

“You must be Jay,” said a hulking man walking toward him. Jay had forgotten just how tall Thomas Blaylock was.

“Yes, Mr. Blaylock, thanks for taking the time to meet with me.”

They shook hands. “Not at all. Please call me Tom.” Tom unlocked the door to his office and said, “Come on in. Have a seat.”

A poster of Albert Einstein, cross-eyed and sticking out his tongue, hung over Blaylock’s desk. Amid the physics texts on the bookshelves was a framed photograph of Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley shaking hands.

Computer keyboard

But it was Blaylock’s computer system that caught Jay’s attention. Jay felt acute pangs of hardware envy. Tom had a laptop on his desk and two souped-up desktop systems in tandem at an adjoining table–along with a scanner, a digital video camera, and a printer that was larger than the one that Jay’s whole department used.

Jay handed Blaylock a copy of his c.v. “I thought that this might help you understand my situation,” he said. He gestured toward the desktop systems across the office. “I have to say that I’m impressed by your set-up here.”

“Oh, thank you. My graduate assistants have been videotaping my ‘Physics of the Automobile’ lectures. The whole course will be online by the end of the semester.”

Jay had heard of Tom’s “Physics of the Automobile” course. It was a class for non-majors, who lovingly called it “The Car Class.” More than 250 students took it every year, and Foley State did not have an auditorium large enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to be in the class.

“My students are using a camera like that,” Jay said. “They’re taping some of their practicum lessons so that we can discuss them in class. I’ve asked them to add their best lessons to an online c.v.”

“Great idea,” Tom offered. There was a short, uncomfortable silence.

“So, I understand you’ve been an outside referee for a few tenure cases that hinged on technology,” Jay started. “I’m turning in my tenure materials this week, and I’m hoping you can give me some advice.”

“Let me take a look at your c.v., and we’ll discuss a few things, Jay.”

“Well, you’ve gotten some grant money for your online textbook. . . . Since grants are refereed, you’ve got some degree of validity already. . . . Now, some of your textbook’s content is submitted by students?”

“That’s right,” Jay answered. “I fold the best student work into the site.”

“It would be a good idea for you to demonstrate just how much of the site you created. Your committee will want to know that. . . . It looks like you’ve published a lot of articles in online journals?”

“And I’ve been a guest editor for one as well.”

“Well, Jay, I’m sure you know this–but the obstacle you face here is one of perception. Some faculty members will look down their noses at these online journals because they perceive that there is no peer review process for these journals. You need to spell out the specifics in your dossier.”

“Good idea,” Jay said.

Blaylock sighed and said, “The toughest thing about technology is proving it makes a difference. You need to provide some evidence that these innovations are improving student learning. Now, you teach foundations of education and practicum seminars. . . . Have you been able to capture any data that will help you formulate a convincing argument?”

“Well, that’s hard to do with the practicum seminars, where my students are doing the video work I told you about. . .”

“Sure,” Thomas nodded.

“I’ve had more luck with the foundations of education course. When I changed the class from three weekly class meetings to two meetings and a ‘virtual class,’ it raised a lot of eyebrows. But my student evaluations show that students have valued discussing concepts online. I’m providing my committee with a sample of student projects, and I think those projects will speak for themselves. I’ve actually seen improvement in the scores on quizzes since I introduced the virtual class meetings.”

“That kind of information should help,” Thomas said. “You know, the provost is committed to rewarding teaching innovations. I think he will be impressed by your work.”

“I’m more worried about impressing my dean,” Jay chuckled. “If I can’t earn a positive recommendation from him, my goose is cooked.”

“Don’t write yourself off too quickly,” Thomas responded. “You’ve got all the markings of a good teacher. John Dewey himself would be proud.”

“I didn’t think that you physicists had ever heard of Dewey!” Jay teased. “It’s all in the experience, after all.”

Scene: At an FSU University Computing Committee meeting, Jay Hill and his peers debate the merits of a wireless computing initiative.

The FSU University Computing Committee sat around an oblong table in President’s Hall. Jay co-chaired the committee, along with Selena Thompson, from the School of Business. Other committee members included Amit Patel (Mathematics), Neil Easton (Computer Science), Jennifer Weinstein (English), Fred Tinker (IT Staff), and Tim Margand (Biology).

For two months, the committee had been revising a plan to implement a wireless computing initiative in Walker Library. Nancy Williams, FSU’s head librarian, therefore joined the meeting–as did Ed Bowen, from FSU’s Budget and Finance office.

“I understand your reservations, Nancy,” Selena said. “This plan that you see before you was initially conceived as an alternative to wiring Walker Library with T3 cables. That process would have been costly and invasive. But the time has clearly come for the University to provide network access throughout the library, not just in the computer labs. Students are complaining every day.”

Jay sipped his third mocha java of the day. After the previous day’s meeting with Thomas Blaylock, he had stayed up most of the night, revising his personal statement. He was happy to let Selena run today’s meeting.

Neil Easton chimed in: “Right, and–now that the cost of a wireless network is nearly half of what it was a year ago–the University can afford to provide network access without tearing up the library in the process.”

“That remains to be seen,” joked Ed Bowen. The rest of the committee chuckled along with him.

Jay tried to laugh, too. During meetings like these, he was embarrassed by Foley State’s slow progress in implementing technological change. Classified as a “Doctoral/Research University–Intensive” in the new Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Education, Foley State often lagged behind the two “Extensive” research universities in the state. It wasn’t just that the bigger universities received larger state appropriations. Foley State refused to move into the vanguard; the university was seemingly content to wait for innovations to “trickle down” from its richer neighbors.

Click here to see the 2000 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

“So, let me get this straight,” Nancy Williams said. Jay braced himself. Nancy Williams never accepted change without a fight. “Students will be able to purchase wireless modems for their computers through Fred’s office. And other students will be able to check out laptops from the circulation desk?”

“Yes,” Selena answered. “The plan calls for an initial supply of fifteen laptops that will be available at the circulation desk. Fred’s staff will help the library maintain these computers.”

“OK,” Nancy said. “My staff will have to revisit the Library’s policies regarding food and drinks. I certainly don’t want anyone ruining one of these machines by spilling Coke all over it.”

Jay drained his mocha java. These meetings were long and tiresome–but he believed that he had made a valuable contribution to the committee, overall. Last year, Jay’s calendar had been so strained by meetings that he had to scale back his commitments to just a few select committees. He realized that, although service to the University was an important facet of his tenure review, it paled in comparison to the importance of teaching and scholarship.

“What do you think, Jay?” Jennifer Weinstein asked. Jay bolted upright. What did he think about what? How long had he been daydreaming?

“I. . . well,” he stalled.

“This might be a stupid question,” Nancy Williams interrupted, “but–if the access points will be on the main floor of the library–do you know if the signal will reach the upper floors, where most of the students work?”

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Fred Tinker offered.

Jay noticed Selena glancing at her watch. It was time to end the meeting.

“We’ve run out of time, everyone,” Jay announced, with relief. “We’ll conclude this discussion next time, and we also need to review Tim’s survey for the faculty. So, when can we all meet again?”

The committee members referred to their respective Palm Pilots and discussed options for convening before the end of the month.

Scene: During a break from his foundations of education class, Jay Hill encounters Edgar Franklin, dean of Foley State University’s School of Education.

“Good job, Melissa,” Jay said. He and his students clapped as Melissa Stewart walked back to her desk. “Okay. . . Sarah, you’re next.”

Sarah Peterson, one of the FSU soccer players, situated herself at the computer at the front of the room. She typed in the URL of her personal homepage and navigated to her foundations research presentation.

Jay was pleased with his class’s work thus far. The students–mostly sophomores and a few juniors beginning their coursework in the Education School–were presenting projects under the umbrella theme of “equity.” Jay permitted the class to draw their work from any era in the history of American schools, despite the fact that his class was still discussing the Progressive movement. Melissa Stewart designed a website with maps, photographs, and newspaper excerpts describing the role of women in early public schools. Ronald Ellis, the only male in the class, showed videoclips of an interview he had conducted with his uncle, who had been a teacher in Georgia during integration.

Sarah Peterson introduced her project, an interactive chapter on the Supreme Court’s Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg decision. It was an ambitious project–but Sarah used her site to explain the case and its ramifications succinctly.

Sarah concluded her presentation with a convincing summation of the repercussions of busing in the United States. She walked toward her desk as Jay and his students clapped and congratulated her.

“Let’s take a break, everybody,” Jay announced. “Ten minutes.”

Jay approached Sarah as everyone filed out of the classroom.

“Nice job, Sarah,” Jay said.

“Thanks, Professor Hill,” she replied, blushing.

Jay strode down the hall toward his office. Before he could reach his office door, Edgar Franklin rounded the corner and greeted him loudly.

“Hello, there, Jay. How are you?”

“I’m just fine, thanks. You?” Jay answered. He was anxious to check his email during the ten-minute break from class. Edgar Franklin was the dean of FSU’s Education School, though–and Jay could not afford to snub him. Jay resigned himself to ten minutes of chit-chat in the hall. Dean Franklin was a notorious talker.

“I’m doing very well,” said the dean. “Are you on a break from class?”

Dean Edgar Franklin

“That’s right,” Jay answered, jingling his keys. “My students are presenting their mid-term projects.”

“Great, good. I suppose I don’t need to remind you that you need to deliver a few materials to my office by noon tomorrow,” the dean said with a wry smile.

“Oh, I won’t forget that!” Jay replied.

“You know, there’s an article in this week’s Chronicle that you might appreciate. A nice editorial on the role of technological innovations in research and how that influences the tenure process.”

Jay’s throat suddenly felt very dry. He tried twice to swallow. “Thanks,” he stammered. “I’ll take a look at that.”

“OK, then,” the dean finished. He offered a quick wave. “I’m off to a meeting.”

Jay unlocked his office door, dazed. How could Dean Franklin broach this subject right now? And did he mean to imply that Jay’s technology work should be presented in terms of research? Jay’s personal statement and dossier addressed his Web site and other work as examples of exemplary teaching. Was he stressing the wrong value?