Guns on Campus
Two bills to remove the prohibition against adults (with conceal carry permits) to carry guns on campus are moving through the Legislature. This legislation is supported by the National Rifle Association and opposed by Board of Governors, the university presidents, and the campus police chiefs. They are also opposed by the United Faculty of Florida.
The argument in favor of this legislation advanced by Florida NRA Board member and former President Marion Hammer is that: "Too often, college campuses are gun-free zones where murderers, rapists and other violent criminals can commit their crimes without fear of being harmed by their victims."
Many faculty are not convinced that permitting non-professionals to carry guns on campus is a good idea. A gun can be a temptation, and considering current problems with alcohol, suicide, and sexual and nonsexual bullying and abuse, adding guns to the mix may not be an improvement.
In addition, it is not clear that a gun-carrying non-professional would be able to deal with the sort of crisis (e.g., a gunman on campus) that supporters of this legislation envision. For example, let's compare the background of a non-professional with that of a professional.
The NRA offers training courses on the maintenance, handling, and operation of various kinds of guns, and their eight hour Basic Personal Protection In The Home Course requires such proficiency as a prerequisite. In addition, their 9-hour Level I Basics of Personal Protection Outside The Home Course has the "In The Home Course" as a prerequisite. At the last United Faculty of Florida Senate meeting, a UFF senator said that he had taken the NRA course and did not feel competent to deal with a gunman or a predator on campus using his gun.
In contrast, the Law Enforcement Training Academy at Hillsborough Community College offers a 25- to 27-week program that meets 40 hours a week to prepare a candidate to be considered by a police department (as a rookie).
In one way, a gun is like a musical instrument: a piece or situation that would challenge a professional is beyond the reach of an amateur.
At tomorrow's Chapter Meeting, the following resolution will be presented to the USF chapter:
HB 4005 and SB 176 would introduce a threat to public safety at USF, and we strongly recommend against the passage of this legislation.
If you have strong feelings about this motion, please feel free to communicate them to the UFF USF Executive Committee. If you have strong feelings about the proposed legislation, you can communicate them to your legislators: for more about that see the Biweekly article on Talking to Legislators.
Tenure and Promotion Criteria
It may be just as well that departments, colleges and units are composing written criteria for tenure and promotion. This will give candidates a more clear guide in designing their research programs and teaching practices. Written criteria will serve as a reminder (to be presented to faculty whenever a tenure or promotion decision is made) of what the departmental criteria are. And once these criteria are accepted by the Administration, that Administration has a moral and institutional duty to respect recommendations made by departments in conformity with the criteria that the Administration accepted.
This means that departments and colleges should take this project very seriously. But since this exercise is new for many units, it should not be expected that these criteria are chiseled in stone. If these criteria are used, they will be organic and evolve over time as the departments and the University evolves.
Once again, the new guidelines present a fourth criterion, that the activity of the candidate support the mission of the University (see the Biweekly article on the Fourth Criterion; all the articles in this tenure and promotion series are linked at the UFF USF website front page). While faculty and professionals are not evaluated annually on this fourth criterion, how a candidate's activity meets this fourth criterion should probably be addressed in any tenure or promotion packet. That means that it would be prudent for a department to compose a statement on its expectations of a candidate in advancing the department's mission and aspirations. Such a statement would serve two purposes:
The entire department should be involved in composing the statement as it involves the entire department and everyone has a stake in it. This particular statement should be flexible, and subject to (possibly annual) revision as the department's view of itself evolves. Indeed, this criterion may be useful in making sure that the department and the college are on the same page.
- It would give a candidate an idea of where to direct their energy.
- It would present the college with a written statement of the department's view of itself, which the college has the (moral) obligation to accept or send back for revision.
These statements would also provide invaluable information on the mission and aspirations of the University to the colleges and the Provost: in enterprises like universities, the actual work and progress is accomplished by the grassroots. Procrustean leadership guided by fashion and ideology and in ignorance of grassroots accomplishments and aspirations will only lead to mediocrity. And in view of the Administration's contractual obligations to academic freedom and shared faculty governance, a department's view of itself should be taken by the Administration as authoritative.
As for teaching, despite the contract's enumeration of materials to be used in evaluating teaching ("…class notes, syllabi, student exams and assignments, and any other materials relevant to the employee's teaching assignment. The teaching evaluation must take into account any relevant materials submitted by the employee, including the results of peer evaluations of teaching..."), there is a tendency to over-rely on student evaluations. As the University is under increasing pressure to enable student success, many new instruments for evaluating teaching will appear over the next few years. The written criteria should take this emphasis and this flux into account.
While the Administration's tenure and promotion guidelines make no specific requirement on the history of teaching evaluations for candidates for tenure, the word "excellence" does appear. Since many departments hire assistant professors with limited teaching experience, their criteria might focus on either the previous few years or the general trend of teaching performance of a candidate.
At USF, many if not most assistant professors are hired because of their research and scholarship credentials. USF has high and rising research and scholarship expectations. But measuring research and scholarship performance is tricky. When composing criteria for tenure and promotion, a department should make clear how its members disseminate their discoveries and creations: books, journals, refereed conferences, industrial and commercial products, performances, artifacts placed or posted, etc. Because lazy evaluators have grown more sophisticated – no dean puts a stack of preprints on a postage scale anymore – departments should anticipate the use and abuse of impact factors, citation indices, and similar devices. If the department has expectations beyond a simple stack of publications, the department should make those expectations clear. One possibility is to look at categories required by various grant agencies such as the National Science Foudation's "intellectual merit" and "broader impacts": see the NSF's Proposal and Award Processes and Procedures Guide for ideas.
Speaking of grants, some lazy administrators replaced their postage scales with cash registers: how much money has the candidate won from grant-giving agencies? Unfortunately, funding is flat while the number of proposals is growing, so many of the agencies are growing increasingly conservative. We will look at winning grants in a later article, but for the moment we pass on two pieces of advice to faculty seeking funding and look at the implications of this advice for using grants in written criteria:
Returning to criteria, a faculty member who is exploring a frontier but not necessarily hot problem may find that overstretched grant awarding agencies are wary of funding it. Tenure and promotion decisions based on actually winning funding may tend to reward fashion at the expense of innovation. A department may want to look at alternative metrics besides just asking whether or not a candidate won funding.
- Only a small fraction of grant proposals are funded, so faculty seeking funding should anticipate composing many proposals. One recommendation is two or three proposals a year. Some agencies permit the submission of revised proposals while others would prefer different proposals be different components of a single research program. Faculty should take the reviews to be assessments of how well the proposal fits into the agency's agenda and use that feedback in composing the next proposal.
- Since the NSF estimates that each proposal takes six "man-weeks", a single person can spend an entire semester composing two or three proposals. In fact, many proposals are stronger when there are several Principal Investigators, and junior faculty should be encouraged to seek senior faculty as co-PIs. This spreads the burden and helps new faculty build track records.
Also, for many departments, the traditional way of evaluating research is to solicit letters from senior and knowledgeable people in the field. Departmental criteria should be clear on the weight given these letters.
Finally, several colleges are exploring adjustments to their tenure and promotion Guidelines, and one proposal is that a tenure candidate be permitted to extend her or his probationary period if all parties agree. This proposal is in draft form, and the union has not taken any position on it, but we have received many comments and queries about the proposal. So we have placed it as a discussion item on the agenda for tomorrow's Chapter Meeting, and everyone interested in this issue is invited to attend. We also welcome comments and queries sent to our email address.