Message from the Dean

John M. Staudenmaier, S.J.,

The Highlighter & Laureate, Summer 2003

John M. Staudenmaier, S.J., Ph.D. teaches the history of America, Detroit, technology, advertising, labor and capitalism. Currently, he is studying Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company. Staudenmaier is author of Technology's Storytellers: Reweaving the Human Fabric, as well as articles and book reviews in his field of study. He is also editor of Technology & Culture. He has held numerous scholarly appointments, most recently the Gasson Chair at Boston College. He holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from St. Louis University and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. His home page is here.


Faculty Excellence: the tenure track

Every January, deans read the promotion and tenure application materials for members of their college faculty who are applying. Tenure marks a powerful moment of the University’s commitment to a faculty member. It is one of the two most important rites of passage for someone who has chosen an academic career, the other being successful completion of the Ph.D.

I decided to let you look over my shoulder, so to speak, and get a sense of what academics look like at close range when faculty are being evaluated. If you were to read the body of material presented by applicants, you would be encouraged by the University of Detroit Mercy’s intellectual integrity and commitment to its mission.

For a dean, the process offers privileged access not only to the achievements of the faculty member, but also to the full array of evidence of that person’s commitment to the University. Finally, it gives the dean a sense of how that person is perceived by her/his colleagues. Before the dossier gets to my desk it has been read by the department chair, a committee of the department, and an elected standing committee of the College, all three going on record with a formal, confidential memo explaining the recommendation. I write another such memo and send the dossier on to the University Promotion and Tenure Committee, which, in turn, makes its recommendation and passes the entire set of memos, with the dossier, on to the Provost.

The application traditionally begins with the faculty member’s argument for promotion. In this document, she/he articulates her/his achievements in the three areas universities look at for their faculty: scholarship, teaching, and service. A note about each.

Scholarship: It is important not only to list one’s publications, formal papers and lectures, but to indicate the relative weight that scholars in the field hold various journals—1st rank, 2nd rank, etc. Evaluators look at quantity, quality and consistency over time. It is not uncommon for an evaluator to write several pages of detailed evaluation of one or several of a candidate’s more important publications, noting strengths and weaknesses in the argument. Nor is it uncommon for evaluators to bring forward evidence of how a given publication is held in the estimation of the world-wide disciplinary community.

Teaching: Candidates typically write an essay articulating their vision of the teaching profession. They support that essay with copies of the syllabi of their courses. A lot of paper is also spent providing copies of student evaluations. While the evaluation forms have a quantitative section, what is often most revealing are patterns found in the handwritten comments which students are encouraged to write. While many upset students point to a problem that needs discussion, you tend to discount the occasional disaffected student who stands out in a field of very enthusiastic comments “wonderful learning experience,” “keep this professor,” “my best course this year,” etc. (note: if a student has a serious complaint, the College has a thoroughly articulated grievance process).

Service: This is harder to quantify, but very important. In the service category, you find evidence of the candidate’s care for the University and its students. The amount of service is sometimes astonishing, especially in a faculty member whose scholarship is clearly vigorous and highly regarded and whose teaching shows evidence of being admirable and labor intensive. There are many possible service profiles and a faculty member’s choices constitute a working self definition of her/his citizenship in the University community. Consider a few kinds of service within the University.

  • advising—all faculty advise students, but some invest many extra hours helping students find their way toward their academic goals.
  • department work—e.g. department curriculum revision; graduate student admissions; student honors society moderator, program director.
  • college work—e.g. committee on academic procedures; promotion and tenure committee, student grade grievance hearing board, college curriculum committee.
  • university work e.g., university core curriculum committee; search committees for deans or vice presidents; university promotion and tenure committee.

Many kinds of service do not fit such categories, such as service on the board of an Aids Hospice organization or an inner city grade school. How do you typify a Sunday morning talk about one’s professional area of expertise at a parish breakfast?

The refreshment I find in reading these reports stems from the record of hard work, competence, and playful creativity. These faculty members make me confident about the future of UDM and the College and proud to be part of this community of working scholars.






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