As a member of my departments Tenure and Promotion and Executive Committees this year, I’ll likely be writing at least two evaluations of the teaching of my regular junior and adjunct colleagues. I’ve read dozens of these over the years by my colleagues (and have written at least half a dozen myself, if not more). Additionally, as a friendly informal mentor to several junior women in my field, I’ve had the chance to read letters evaluating their teaching by their colleagues.
One of my mentees sent me a letter today that got me thinking about the ethics and politics of writing these evaluation letters. She just recently received a letter from a colleague that was 1) from a class taught nearly six months ago which then proceeded to 2) pick nits about the introductory blurb on her syllabus, and 3) criticize her for letting her students figure out a primary source together in class rather than just telling them everything they need to know. Would you be surprised to learn that this is also a letter from a person who has been an Associate Professor for at least 30 years? No, I didn’t think so. The writer of this letter just couldn’t let someone 30-some years his junior, and the author of three peer-reviewed articles in top journals and a forthcoming book, be an expert in her own field.
(Every time I read a letter like this, whether it’s in a tenure file or passed to me by a friend looking for advice, I’m reminded of the value of modesty and generosity in being a good colleague. Because, really: who wants to be THAT guy? Those letters are so transparent–like a cry for help, almost. Any smart committee, chair or dean can see right through them.)
Here’s my question for you readers: if you are in the position to write letters like this, what’s your approach? Continue Reading »