April 16, 2018

The new university lecturer rank for teaching faculty

The application process for the new rank of university lecturer generated a great deal of discussion at the final Teaching Matters session of the semester. The ongoing Teaching Matters series brings together faculty members from many disciplines for conversations about teaching and learning. The organizers of this session, from the back left, were Veselin Jungic (Mathematics), Joan Sharp (Biological Sciences) and Cindy Xin (Teaching and Learning Centre).

For several years, SFU faculty members in the teaching stream could apply for the rank of “teaching professor.” That rank was abolished when SFU and the SFU Faculty Association (SFUFA) signed their most recent collective agreement in 2016 (seven faculty members received and continue to hold the rank). In its place, the agreement established the rank of “university lecturer” as a third tier above lecturer and senior lecturer. The first set of applications for this new rank is currently being reviewed by Faculty deans; promotion recommendations are scheduled to go to the VP Academic by mid-May.

On April 10, 2018, an interdisciplinary group of faculty members met to talk about the rank and the application process at the final Teaching Matters session of the semester. The participants included a number of current applicants and several faculty members who have been involved in reviewing applications, as well as other interested members of the SFU teaching community. SFUFA executive members Russell Day and Rochelle Tucker also attended and shared their personal perspectives.

Thoughts on the application process

It was clear from the discussion that there is strong faculty interest in the new rank. A number of themes emerged with regard to the application process:

  • Compiling a package to demonstrate the required qualifications can be quite labour-intensive. “Anticipate a lot of work,” said one applicant.
  • Expectations concerning qualifications are not (yet) entirely clear, and certain terms included in Section 35.15, the relevant section of the collective agreement—such as “outstanding achievement in teaching” and “outstanding achievement in educational leadership”—are not explicitly defined and have in some cases led to confusion.
  • The current application criteria do not easily capture certain types of teaching-related activity. Faculty members offered examples about whose classification they were unsure, such as teaching and learning–related publications and presentations or grants.
  • Departmental requirements and expectations vary widely. For example, one applicant was asked for three teaching and learning–related publications; another was told that publications would not be considered. Veselin Jungic, a teaching professor in Mathematics who acted as a referee for applicants in several departments, said, “To me it was obvious that the applications were influenced by the culture of the department and discipline.”

Friendly advice

Faculty members with experience in reviewing application packages offered some friendly advice to those considering an application:

  • Include whatever information and activities you feel demonstrate your qualifications, even if these do not fit neatly into a standard category. “It’s a really good idea to define [the boundaries] yourself,” said one faculty member.
  • Provide a detailed cover letter to help reviewers make sense of the application package and to connect the package content to the criteria outlined in the collective agreement. “If you do that, the reviewers will kiss your feet,” said one veteran reviewer.
  • Talk to people, including department chairs, other applicants and TLC educational consultants, to clarify expectations about what should go in the application, how it should be organized and presented, and how key terms like “outstanding achievement in educational leadership” will be interpreted.

Russell Day encouraged faculty members to contact SFUFA with any questions they have. Others recommended Day’s workshop, Your Teaching Dossier/Portfolio: A S.M.A.R.T. Approach for SFU Faculty (offered annually through the Teaching and Learning Centre), as a good starting point for the application process, and one reviewer noted that all the applicants she had reviewed were current or past recipients of Teaching and Learning Development Grants from the Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines.

Day also highlighted the special presentation on student evaluation of teaching by guest speaker Philip B. Stark (University of California at Berkeley) on April 26, 2018, as a place to gain insight on the challenges the university faces as it grapples with evaluation of teaching.

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