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Tenure decisions extended, BCQs cancelled in wake of of remote learning

May 1, 2020

The College will extend tenure decisions by one year and has created an adapted, informal questionnaire to temporarily replace the formal Bowdoin Course Questionnaires (BCQs) to account for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic’s disruption of professors’ teaching and scholarship. These changes were recommended by the Committee for Appointments, Promotions and Tenure (CAPT) to ensure that professors are evaluated according to an equitable and fair standard despite unusual and varied circumstances.

“Lives are upside down. Some [professors] are teaching synchronously; some are teaching asynchronously. Some have kids at home; some are single parents,” said Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies Dharni Vasudevan, the chair of CAPT, in a video interview with the Orient. “So it’s not very fair to use a survey that was designed when resources and circumstances were more equitable.”

Outside of the classroom, restrictions on travel and the closure of non-essential businesses might prevent professors from achieving the same quality and quantity of scholarship they are otherwise expected to produce.

“Conferences are canceled. Publishers are putting things on hold,” Vasudevan said. “People can’t travel abroad to archives for field trips, labs are closed and science people can’t be doing that research.”

Dean of Academic Affairs Elizabeth McCormack also noted that professors might now be spending time previously allocated for research learning how to use new video conferencing software or preparing asynchronous course materials. The decision protects professors from being penalized for making this trade-off.

If tenure-track faculty members decide their research has not been seriously disrupted by the pandemic, they may opt out of the one-year extension.

To make its recommendation, CAPT consulted with 30 faculty members—15 tenured and 15 on the tenure track—in the days after the College announced the transition to remote learning. Even though the committee made its recommendation before professors began teaching remotely and before the College announced the switch to a universal pass/fail grading system, its findings were next to unanimous in support of suspending BCQs for the semester.

“[Responses were] very consistent about how the instrument was not contextualized for the current time,” Vasudevan said. “And this was even before we knew how bad it was.”

The official decision by the Office of Academic Affairs encourages, but does not require, professors to utilize the new questionnaire. The new survey was designed by Director of the Baldwin Center for Teaching and Learning Kathrine Byrnes and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Rachel Beane and will be administered through Blackboard’s survey software.

Results from these questionnaires may be used by professors in writing “dossiers”—self-evaluative documents the Office of Academic Affairs uses in the process of making tenure and promotion decisions—but professors pursuing tenure or promotion will neither be required nor expected to incorporate responses from this semester’s questionnaire in self-evaluations.


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