** Reminder: The deadline for the Statement of Purpose Essay Contest approacheth: Saturday, 20 December 2008 **
'Tis also the season to consider the subject of award nominations and the bizarre process of nominating and evaluating faculty for awards that recognize outstanding work in the various components of a professorial job (research, teaching, service). In fact, 'tis almost always the season, as there are many such awards, but right now this is on my mind because I have recently been directly or indirectly involved in at least 4 different award-related efforts.
Some academic awards are just nice pats on the back and allow you to add another line to your CV with the name of some obscure award that won't impress your mother because it isn't the one award she's ever heard of for scientists. Others have real significance for your career, particularly those that come with unrestricted research funds or that increase your visibility in your field.
A few issues related to awards and the evaluation process are troubling me. At the moment, my plan is to devote 2 ± 1 blog pots to discussing various topics related to ethics and diversity in the nominating, evaluating, and awarding of awards. For example:
What do you do if you are on an awards committee and have a routine conflict of interest with an award nominee and so cannot vote or comment on the nomination, but you have 'inside' information that would probably eliminate this person from consideration if the information were shared with the rest of the committee?
Do you honor the restrictions of the conflict of interest and say nothing or do you speak out to prevent a grave injustice? Does the answer depend on the nature of the inside information or does the conflict of interest prevent intervention in all cases?
Presumably the information is relevant to the professional activity for which the award would be awarded. For example, someone can get an award for outstanding research or teaching even if they steal candy from babies, refuse to help blind old ladies cross the street, and leave anonymous obscene comments on blogs. Unpleasant but legal behavior is not relevant and should not be considered, though there are perhaps extreme examples of non-work related activities that might make someone unsuitable for a professional award. In those cases, though, a person may be less likely to be nominated for an award.
What if the inside information involves knowledge of false statements in the nomination file? Other nominees might also have false statements in their nomination files but these would only be detected if another awards committee member knew those nominees well. Is the imbalance in level of information about nominees sufficient reason to honor the conflict of interest and overlook false statements (a.k.a. lies) or should lies be revealed if they are known?
Does it matter what the award is? For example, I was once discussing a particular situation with my husband, and he was disgusted by the very existence of a certain nomination and the problematic aspects of it, but he concluded "Who cares if Professor X does get some award?" until he asked what the award was. When I told him his response changed to "Oh, if it's that award, you need to say something."
His other response was "But be careful. You don't want to appear to be a vindictive back-biting hysteric from a dysfunctional academic unit populated by frauds when it's really just this one person who should never have been nominated."
1 month ago