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College faculty votes to update tenure review guidelines

March 12, 2021

On Tuesday, faculty voted in favor of approving a motion to revise teaching criteria for tenure and promotion. Starting in the 2022-23 academic year, candidates for tenure and promotion will be evaluated on the basis of whether they “demonstrate inclusive excellence in teaching,” replacing the current “demonstrate excellence in teaching.”

“This change is not just about simply using the right terminology, but really using something action-based,” Stanley F. Druckenmiller Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies and Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Inclusion Dharni Vasudevan, who presented the guideline change, said in a phone interview with the Orient. “In doing this, we’re embedding inclusion [in defining] what it means to be successful as an academic … as an institution, I feel it’s a real step forward for us.”

The idea for the motion first appeared over a year ago. The Committee on Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure (CAPT) is primarily responsible for providing input during the faculty tenure review process. CAPT is the second of five parties to evaluate candidates, reviewing applications after departments but before Academic Affairs, the President and the Board of Trustees. However, last year’s CAPT took on the extra work of evaluating the existing tenure review process in the context of new diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives proposed by the College.

“These guidelines hadn’t been touched in at least 20 years,” said Professor of Government and current chair of CAPT Laura Henry in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “While we were able to use them very effectively to evaluate people, they were a little out of sync with how we view ourselves as an institution and as teachers in the classroom today.”

Members of CAPT viewed this change as an update to bring tenure review guidelines up to speed with ongoing DEI work carried out across other departments on campus.

“We realized we had a very static view of excellence, given how much advancement there’s been on the scholarship of teaching and learning,” Vasudevan, who served as the chair of CAPT last year, said. “[We were also influenced by] Bowdoin’s commitment to DEI, which started well before this moment. Based on these observations, we decided that the right way to respond was to … review the tenure guidelines.”

The change from “excellence” to “inclusive excellence” has concrete impacts on multiple stages of the tenure review process. Faculty up for review will have the opportunity to address their commitment to inclusive excellence in teaching through self-reflective personal statements drafted for the CAPT. Syllabi, Bowdoin Course Questionnaires (BCQs), sample assignments and grading rubrics will all be considered within the context of inclusive excellence.

Additionally, letter-writers will be directed to address a tenure candidate’s approach to inclusivity in their recommendation. It is part of Bowdoin’s existing tenure review process to have a small number of the candidate’s former students, including those currently at the College and alumni, (write a retrospective letter describing their teaching). Now, students will be asked to consider the professor’s commitment to inclusive excellence as well.

“One of the things that’s really exciting about it is that we always talk to students about having a growth mindset—that it’s a process, it’s a practice, we’re constantly learning, changing and refining,” Henry said. “That’s what’s really being emphasized here—teaching as a living practice that goes on throughout one’s career.”

On Tuesday, over 90 percent of all faculty voted in favor of the change, a testimony to the widespread support that CAPT worked to garner from colleagues across the College. Over a preparation period spanning  15 months, CAPT emphasized collaboration, holding workshops with other faculty working groups, special sessions with junior faculty and other outreach events to involve as many people as possible in the dialogue and engage a diverse range of perspectives in formulating the terminology change.

Vasudevan said that she viewed the change as, in one sense, updating terminology to reflect work that faculty were already doing in the classroom to address DEI in their teaching. She said that CAPT decided to use the definition of “inclusive excellence” adopted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities:

“Making excellence inclusive is thus an active process through which colleges and universities achieve excellence in learning, teaching, student development, institutional functioning and engagement in local and global communities. A high-quality, practical liberal education should be the standard of excellence for all students,” the definition reads. “The action of making excellence inclusive requires that we uncover inequities in student success, identify effective educational practices and build such practices organically for sustained institutional change.”

“I see whole new generations of faculty who are incredibly well-trained and thoughtful from the very start of their professional careers, faculty who have given a lot of thought to issues of diversity and inclusion,” Vasudevan said. “They’re really inspiring. One side [of this change] is just acknowledging the work that they’re already doing on behalf of the institution.”


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  1. Sam Lewis ‘19 says:

    Did you interview any of the faculty who were against the change? If you did, what were their reasons? Did you interview any students about the change? If you did, what were their thoughts?

    Trustees? President Rose? Alumni?

  2. Bowdoin ’13 says:

    How ‘inclusive’ is the College prepared to be? I assume ‘inclusive’ would by definition also include accepting the voices of tenure candidates who may not agree with holding ‘inclusivity’ and ‘excellence’ at the same level. Otherwise, is that not just hypocrisy?

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