As we progress through our academic careers, there are various documents and other items that need saving and organizing. Back in the Paper Epoch, my organization method typically involved sticking all important or potentially important documents into a single file drawer, to be further organized if the need arose. This was not a great system.
Now I do the electronic equivalent and put assorted important documents in a folder or three. This is not a great system either, but it is better than the method of one of my colleagues (says me) -- he keeps everything on his desktop until his desktop his full of overlapping icons, then he makes a folder called "Desktop DATE" and puts it somewhere (probably on his desktop), and then hopes that he can find what he needs by searching on key words.
I suppose we each find a method that balances our like/dislike of the effort of organization with the inconvenience of not being organized.
Nevertheless, there are essential documents that need to be located when needed. For example, early- to mid-career faculty need to keep track of any documents that might one day be included in a tenure or promotion dossier. It is good to find out in advance what those documents might be and whether you or your department are responsible for these documents.
That sounds like an obvious statement, and I can't believe I am even writing about this, but I am writing about this because of an egregious example of disorganization by a certain academic department (not mine), with negative consequences for a tenure-track faculty member. Here's a cautionary tale:
In some departments, every faculty member teaches the same number of courses every year -- in theory. In reality, faculty may be given "course releases", reducing the number of courses taught. Course releases can be given for a variety of reasons, including the need for faculty to have sufficient time for:
- course development or curriculum revision if these activities require a substantial amount of time (i.e., more than could normally be considered an acceptable level of department service);
- administrative duties: some administrators are part-time administrators, part-time faculty;
- research: for example, early-career faculty may teach less so that they have time to establish their research program, or faculty with a grant may "buy out" a course (or two) if time is needed for research activities (including supervising students, writing papers, traveling to conferences or research labs/sites etc.).
My department doesn't do course buy-outs, but faculty may be granted a term leave or some other decrease in teaching for a specific purpose. When this happens, the chair writes a short letter outlining the purpose and timing of the leave. The professor gets a copy, and a copy goes in a file somewhere. (note: I am not talking about sabbaticals, which involve a different level of administrative involvement and paperwork.)
An early-career professor in a different department was given a number of "course releases" during the probationary (pre-tenure) period. Most of these were for curriculum development and other teaching/service activities. The timing and purpose of the course releases were worked out informally with the department chair.
Fast forward a few years: The tenure-track professor (TTP) is criticized by some colleagues for not getting more research done despite having some course releases. TTP replied that most of these course releases were for the specific purpose of curriculum redesign or for organization of a new cross-disciplinary teaching initiative etc. There was a clear record of accomplishment of these things.
Hmm, maybe, but where is the documentation of the purpose of the course releases? Without that, who knows how the time was supposed to have been spent? Maybe this professor volunteered to do all this extra service in an effort to avoid doing more research? Without a letter, we just have the word of the TTP. Apparently, for some people, that was not enough.
Surely the chair hastened to step in an clarify the situation? No, not in this case. The chair said "I don't know" when asked to explain the purposes of the course releases. Perhaps they were for the specific purpose of research? Yes, probably, one could assume that.
This is corrupt. This is what Bad Academics do when they want to blame someone else for their incompetence (in the case of the chair) or find a reason to criticize someone (in the case of the zealous colleagues).
It would never have occurred to me, as a TTP, to ask for documentation of the purpose of a decrease in the number of courses I taught in a particular term. I was lucky to be in departments that routinely provided this documentation or that would not have used the lack of such as a criticism of me. Unfortunately, the TTP in question is in the worst of all departmental worlds -- one without course release agreements, but one with colleagues who place the burden of proof on the TTP, not the department chair.
How many of you faculty out there reading this have a formal vs. informal arrangement for course releases, term leaves, and such? (again -- not talking about sabbaticals).
In this case, I would define a "formal" arrangement as one accompanied by documentation of the timing and purpose of the course releases, and "informal" as one without documentation, perhaps worked out in a conversation with the chair. Documentation need not be an actual letter on letterhead. Even an e-mail from the chair would suffice (especially if you save the e-mail).
6 years ago