PSC 2020-2021 Statement on Tenure Review COVID

Reviewing Tenure Cases During the COVID Epoch 
Sarah Gates, Chair (2019-2021) 
Professional Standards Committee 
Fall 2020


The members of the Professional Standards Committee would like to assure the St. Lawrence faculty that we are acutely aware of the extraordinary challenges and stresses that the events of 2020-21 have imposed on all of us—that we indeed face them ourselves.  Even beyond such interruptions of research activity as travel restrictions and closed borders, we know that disruptions to our very private lives have exacerbated, sometimes disastrously, the inequities that underlie our society and indeed our campus, making the pursuit of a career in our profession even more difficult for many of us.  We compose this statement not only to assure our colleagues of our awareness, but also to create a record of the times for future members of the committee, who will be reviewing cases that no doubt will still show the impact of these semesters’ disruptions in the years to come. 

While we are aware that everyone has suffered, however, we cannot know the particular impacts on particular candidates unless these are explained to us, and we remind every candidate and every program and department chair that they have ways to articulate and manage their individual stories of these semesters.   

First, any candidates for tenure who taught in Spring 2020 can choose not to include their course evaluations from that semester in their files.  The members of PSC will not make interpretations of this choice.   

Second, any candidates for tenure who taught in Spring 2020 also have the option to delay the tenure clock by a semester or a year.  The members of PSC will likewise not interpret this choice.   

Third, candidates who desire to stand for tenure early should consider even more carefully the risks they take in doing so.  PSC can only base its decisions on the information that is included in the file.  If all or most of that information comes from these embattled semesters, it may be difficult to provide evidence that concerns from the mid-probationary review have been addressed.  We cannot speculate without evidence about what might have gone better in better circumstances. 

Fourth—and most importantly—all candidates and department chairs have the venues in which to articulate the impacts of these upheavals on teaching, scholarship, and even service.  The candidate’s Personal Statement can and should contextualize the data in the file, and the COVID epoch is part of that context.  The department’s Consensus Letter and Peer Review of Courses can and should serve a similar purpose from a departmental and disciplinary view.  The members of PSC will read with interest, care, and understanding all such contextualization.


The committee has received many questions about conducting teaching reviews during the current year, given the different teaching modalities that we are all attempting in response to COVID restrictions.  We encourage our colleagues to be flexible and responsive to the particular faculty member who is under review while remaining mindful of everyone’s situations. For example, many colleagues are not coming to campus this semester and so cannot observe in-person classes, while many classrooms are at capacity and cannot allow another person in the room. The first step should be to talk with candidates about their particular classes, modalities, and pedagogies to determine what kind of “visit” will work best for those.  We present here a short list of possibilities (by no means exhaustive) for “observing classes” when in-person observation is precluded. 

For in-person portions of hybrid classes, IT can provide a camera with a wide-angle lens that can be set up in the back of the room so that an observer can watch the class synchronously from afar, or so that the class can be recorded, allowing the observer to “visit” asynchronously. 

For synchronous online classes, reviewers can join the classes (either muted or not, as agreeable to both visitor and visitee), and if the instructor uses breakout rooms for part of the class, the visitor can join one of them, as well.  Online synchronous classes can also be recorded and reviewed later by reviewers, although because Zoom recordings stay with the meeting host, breakout sessions are not recorded unless the host joins a given session, in which case that session can be recorded.  We should all remember to gain the permission of students before recording. 

For asynchronous classes, the visitor can peruse the learning management system (such as Sakai) through which the instructor is delivering the course.  The instructor should advise visitors on what the equivalent of a “class” is so that visitors do not have to review the entire site (which would be the equivalent of visiting every class of the semester). Class equivalents might be forum or chatroom assignments, particular Perusall or social annotation activities, recorded lectures or videos, and so on.   

 Are such options comfortable or optimal?  Certainly not—but we encourage everyone to be flexible, creative, and responsive to the particulars of each case in planning for reviews that best reflect the pedagogical aims and achievements of the faculty member being considered for tenure and promotion.