Jared Johns: Case #1
Characterization of Institution
Comprehensive I, State University
Characterization of Department
M.A. in English
How would Jared Johns' case turn out in your department? At your university/college?
At my current university, Johns would most likely be tenured, with little question at all about his scholarship. There might be questions about his teaching, though, for we are a teaching institution, but I doubt that it would be overwhelming. Of course, his course load is designed for a Research university, and it is quite light for the standards of our current university.
What are the Department Chair's responsibilities toward Johns? Which did she/he fulfill? Fail?
It appears that the Department Chair did give Johns some good advice after his early service, namely, to cut down on his committee work, to help students understand the technology (although his suggestion of a programmed tutorial seems a bit naïve), and to concentrate upon teaching the quantity of argumentation expected. He also suggested that Johns have the director of their teaching center visit his classes. The case does not specify whether Johns pursued that, so I assume he did not.
The Chair, though, has done very little to help Johns. It appears that he only meets with him after his first semester. If he met annually for annual reviews, the case does not specify that. He could have asked a senior faculty member to mentor Johns on teaching. He could have reviewed his syllabi and visited Johns’ classes (if the tenure and review guidelines allow that). He could have more overtly prevented Johns from serving on so many graduate committees.
The Chair’s response to the complaint from the parent and the President was appropriate. (But I am amazed that the President responded that way. In no institution that I have ever served in—as chair, dean, associate provost or provost—would a president ever have acted in that manner.)
In short, given the characterization of the Chair’s actions in this case, I believe that the Chair bears much responsibility for having allowed Johns to commit himself to so much and clearly not have the time to address the promotion criteria.
What are the Personnel Committee's responsibilities toward Johns? Which did they fulfill? Fail?
I think the Personnel Committee acted appropriately in this circumstance. In all the institutions I have worked in, Personnel Committees do not have to make their reasons as public as this Committee did. Their review is mixed, which is appropriate in this case. They have apparently allowed Johns to pick his own external reviewers, which is generous.
What are the responsibilities of the Dean? Which did she/he fulfill? Fail?
The Dean is barely present in this case, so I will have to assume that this is a passive dean. Where was the dean (and the provost, too, for that matter) when the President complained about the parent complaint?
I do not have the retention, promotion, and tenure guidelines in front of me, so I do not know the role of the chair, personnel committee, and dean in the review, so I will assume that the personnel committee acts first, the chair writes the review of Johns from the chair’s perspective, and the dean does so as dean. But we do not see those in this case.
Does the dean review the annual reviews of untenured faculty (assuming that there are annual reviews)? This case seems to indicate that there is only a fourth year formal review prior to the tenure review. If I were this dean, I would talk in detail with the Chair to gain his perspective.
What are Johns' responsibilities? Which did he fulfill? Fail?
Johns may be enthusiastic, but naïve. If he knew in his first year that his teaching of the argumentation course was being questioned, why did he not do something about it? More and more research universities are beginning to value teaching more, but it appears Johns worked more at service than anything else. Did he talk to other faculty about meeting the scholarship expectations? It appears that he did not. If he considers himself an expert in using technology for teaching, he does not show it, for a good teacher would immediately have begun adjusting the ways he or she teaches with technology once he or she knew that it was not working well with undergraduates. That graduate students like him is not terribly surprising, for he is a freshly-minted Ph.D., probably with knowledge of current theory and practice. That he did not seek help from the Director of the teaching center is his fault.
Johns fulfilled his service responsibilities admirably, too much so, in fact. There was no reason for his serving on so many student committees. He clearly saw his work with technology as something he cared about, so he worked hard at that.
He could have written articles about his experiences, articles that would be acceptable in the "first or second tier" publications. But, it appears that there is a serious disconnect between what he writes and his work in the department. That he writes poetry is fine, but he needs to realize that no one values it. That he wants to publish a book based on his dissertation reflects the desire of many new Ph.D.s: I’ve put so much work into my dissertation that it must be worth a book! Well, that is simply a mistake. The next thing you know, he’ll volunteer to teach a class on the cybercollaboration of faith healers!
What went wrong? What went right?
The Department appears to value two things: teaching well and publishing in the right journals. They don’t know what to do to reinforce good teaching, but they were clear in their concerns at the very start of Johns’ career. When warned, Johns did not seek help. That is his fault. My judgment would have been that he is not a good teacher.
The institution could have required that untenured faculty submit portfolios for review that include reflective essays on their scholarship of teaching. It apparently did not. It could have reviewed untenured faculty annually, if only by the Chair. It did not. It could have assigned mentors. It did not.
I don’t know what advice he got on publishing, but I’ll assume he knew what the Department expected. If he did not, then he truly is naïve. So, he allowed his personal interests to take precedence over those of the Department. He did not work at his teaching, so he is to be faulted for that. He was interested in only publishing what he was interested in, in publications that the Department appears not to value. That was his choice, so he appears to have made the wrong choices. There’s nothing wrong with his pursuing the publishing that he values, as long as he also does what the Department values.
The Personnel Committee appears to have acted appropriately. Their vote is split, but it falls on the favorable side, and they do give specific criticism that Johns should heed. (They appear not to have counted his publications from before the time he was hired, but that sometimes happens. Regardless of those, he should have been addressing the Department’s standards.)
What is the role of the dean? What is the role of the provost? Who knows? They probably will agree with whatever the Chair and Personnel Committee recommend. But both could exert more influence over the preparation and support of untenured faculty.