The Faculty Reward System

Priorities and the Promotion and Tenure Process

The closer the match between the mission of an institution and the priorities as described in the promotion and tenure system, the more productive the faculty will be in helping the institution reach the goals that have been identified. All too often what are articulated as the priorities of a college or university are not supported by the faculty reward system. This gap can create problems for the institution, its administrators, and the dedicated faculty who work there. The present criteria for rewarding faculty work at many institutions, based primarily on the scientific model of research and publication, are often counterproductive to reaching larger academic goals that most campuses agree are both central to the institution and vital to the development of a quality educational experience for students.

In 1987, Ernest Boyer reported that divided loyalties and competing career concerns “appeared with regularity and seemed consistently to sap the vitality of the baccalaureate experience” (Boyer, 1987). In Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities for the Professoriate, Boyer argued that “a wide gap now exists between the myth and the reality of research, teaching, and service, but when it comes to making judgments about professional performance, the three rarely are assigned equal merit . . . the time has come to move beyond the tired old ‘teaching versus research’ debate and give the familiar and honorable term ‘scholarship’ a broader, more capacious meaning, one that brings legitimacy to the full scope of academic work” (Boyer, 1990).

Boyer’s position seems to be shared by many in academe. Over 50,000 faculty members, chairs, deans, and administrators at research universities (Gray, Froh, and Diamond, 1992, and Gray, Diamond, and Adam, 1996) indicated that even those most directly involved with the present reward system consider the balance between research and teaching on their campuses inappropriate. One young faculty member lamented, “As a new junior professor, I have come into the profession with a strong interest in research, but an equally strong interest in serving students by helping them learn both in and outside of the classroom. The attitude I’m receiving from all levels . . . is that research is what counts. If the other areas of service and teaching are lacking but research is strong, then promotions will follow. Unfortunately, I think this is the wrong message to be sending faculty.”

Most significantly, the results of these studies indicate that efforts to modify the promotion and tenure system to recognize and reward teaching are supported by a majority of faculty members, chairs, deans, and central administrators at research, doctoral, and master’s level institutions. On the positive side, results from a more recent study have indicated that on a number of campuses efforts to place increased importance on teaching is underway and that priorities are viewed as changing (Diamond and Adam, 1997).

Characteristics of an appropriate and effective promotion and tenure system

How might we think differently about faculty rewards in a time of tight resources, multiple demands, and changing technologies? We propose that a faculty reward system appropriate for these dynamics must have the following characteristics:

The faculty reward system must fit appropriately with the mission statement of the institution.

All colleges and universities are not alike. State and private institutions, church-related colleges, urban and rural institutions, large and small, all have their own agendas. Some institutions have a distinct research mission, while others focus primarily on teaching and/or service. An effective promotion and tenure system must be sensitive to these differences and must support the mission statement of the institution.

In order to support change in reward systems, the institutional mission and vision statements must be realistic, operational, and sensitive to the unique characteristics and strengths of the institution. Such is not always the case. All too many institutional mission statements are vaguely articulated, employing nonspecific language open to a variety of interpretations, while others express lofty ideals that are difficult to attain and impossible to assess.

Samuel Hope, Executive Director of the National Office for Arts Accreditation in Higher Education, made the following observation: “From my perspective in accreditation, it is not unusual to see tremendous rhetorical emphasis on the mission-goal objectives equation within institutions and programs. It is also not unusual to see failure to work the real meaning of this concept in various operational areas. The assessment of faculty work is one of these areas . . . an institution cannot claim to have a unique mission . . . if it does not also have a unique approach to assessing the quality of faculty” (Hope, 1992).

The reward system must be sensitive to the differences among the disciplines.

Several years ago, Syracuse University, with support from the Lilly Endowment and the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, began a series of projects focused on the faculty reward system. As part of this initiative, a number of professional associations established task forces to develop statements articulating the range of activities that could be considered “scholarly.”

As this project has progressed, significant differences among the disciplines have become clear. There are differences in what faculty members do across disciplines as well as in the language they use to describe what they do. It is important that reward systems acknowledge and honor the inherent functional differences among the humanities, the social sciences, sciences, and professional schools.

While some fields are comfortable with the traditional terms of research, teaching, and service, others find the model developed by Eugene Rice more comfortable. In his important article, “The New American Scholar: Scholarship and the Purposes of the University” (1991), Rice divides “scholarly work” into four components:

  • the advancement of knowledge: essentially original research
  • the integration of knowledge: synthesizing and reintegrating knowledge, revealing new patterns of meaning and new relationships between the parts and the whole
  • the application of knowledge: professional practice directly related to an individual’s scholarly specialization
  • the transformation of knowledge through teaching: including pedagogical content knowledge and discipline-specific educational theory

For many of the disciplines, a review of the work of Rice, Boyer, and others has been an excellent place to begin. However, over time they have found themselves to be more comfortable with a model uniquely molded to the values and language of their disciplines. Emerging from the professional associations are statements that disciplinarians consider likely to facilitate generative dialogue in their fields. A single model or process is simply not realistic given the differences among the disciplines. What we see evolving is a set of standards and criteria that are functional at the institution, college, and department levels and comprehensible to those outside the discipline who have key roles to play in the promotion and tenure process.

The work of the professional associations to date reveals that one thing is common across disciplines: important faculty work is not being rewarded. Service, teaching, and creativity are risky priorities for faculty members seeking tenure or promotion at many institutions. The report from the American Historical Society’s Task Force to Redefine Scholarly Work (1992) reflects this concern:

This debate over priorities is not discipline-specific but extends across the higher education community. Nevertheless, each discipline has specific concerns and problems. For history, the privilege given to the monograph in promotion and tenure has led to the undervaluing of other activities central to the life of the discipline – writing textbooks, developing courses and curricula, documentary editing, museum exhibitions, and film projects to name but a few.

Similar problems appear in drama departments with the production of a play, in English or writing departments when a faculty member works in the community to develop a literacy program, and in management, economics, sociology, or retailing when a professor’s skills are used to help a community group address a significant problem.

To put it bluntly, the focus on research and publication and the mad dash for federal funds and external grants has diverted energies away from important faculty work. It has had a direct and negative impact on the quality of classroom instruction and on the ability of institutions to provide support to and involve their communities. It also diverts energies from types of research that do not fall within the traditional publication realm.

Real limitations exist for faculty who want to ensure recognition for their scholarly pursuits. The choice is often between research that intrigues and excites them and the type that can be represented in a publication and will appeal to the prestige journals or publishers. The result has been a proliferation of what might be called “establishment research.”

The reward system must be sensitive to the differences among individuals.

We each bring to our work different strengths, interests, and perspectives. Establishing an identical set of criteria for all faculty, as we have tended to do, is unrealistic and can undermine the quality of an academic unit. The truth is that outstanding researchers are not necessarily great teachers, and great teachers are not always exceptional researchers.

The goal for each department, school, or college should be to bring together a group of talented individuals who can work together in a synergistic manner to reach the goals of that unit. A department needs the great teacher who can motivate and excite entering students as much as it needs the quality researcher or author who can break new ground in the discipline.

The reward system must also recognize that faculty members will focus their attention in different areas at different times in their careers. This may be the result of a departmental assignment; on other occasions it will be inherent to the discipline. In some fields, a faculty member’s major research accomplishments come early in his or her career; in others, a scholarly focus occurs later, when the individual has had the opportunity to expand his or her perspectives.

The reward system must develop an assessment program that is appropriate, perceived to be fair, and workable.

To reach this goal, we propose a selected professional portfolio tailored to the specific responsibilities of an individual faculty member. This system would permit an in-depth evaluation of representative items and activities rather than the more customary quick review of often overlapping and redundant studies and publications.

It should be a system that, where appropriate, stresses process as much as product and into which the expert judgment of peers or colleagues is incorporated. It should also be a system that separates exceptional and innovative teaching, software and curriculum development, and significant research about teaching from those activities that all faculty members perform in their classrooms and laboratories.

It is at the department level where most action takes place and where the most specificity in documentation is required.

One of the more challenging issues that the chair will face is insuring that there is an appropriate mesh between the priorities of the department and how a faculty member spends his or her time.

Since faculty have different strengths, the process should ensure the best possible match between individual talents and departmental needs. While some faculty members may place a great deal of their energy on improving the introductory courses and on pedagogy, others, because of the needs of the department and their personal strengths, may be asked to focus their energies on graduate teaching, on basic or applied research, or in discipline-related work out in the community. It is the combination of a wide range of activities involving faculty members with different strengths that is essential if a department is to reach its maximum potential.

As Carla Howery, Deputy Executive Director of the American Sociological Association, stressed in a presentation at the 1997 summer Minnowbrook conference, when a quality match between the talents and interests of an individual and the needs of the department does not exist, action then becomes necessary.

The Match of Individual Faculty Interests and Talents with Institutional/Departmental Needs:
Implications, Rewards, and Faculty Development
Carla Howery

HORIZONTAL AXIS: Quality of Professional/Scholarly Work
(broadly defined; well-measured)

VERTICAL AXIS: Compatibility with Mission

HIGH Effective Match
rewards; new opportunities; success!
Unskilled Match
faculty development and a plan to enhance skills
LOW Mismatch
continue what is done well, but set explicit
expectations for new areas and rewards (only if)
Unskilled Mismatch
more serious remediation with carrots and sticks

The goal is to use the faculty reward system in a fair way to support the priorities of the unit and to recognize and use more effectively the strengths of individuals. This will require planning, development, and evaluation at both the departmental and individual levels.

The Parallel Process for Departments and Individuals:
Planning, Development, Assessment, and Rewards

Carla Howery

Planning personal goals mission statements, strategic planning
Formative Development formative pre- and post-tenure retreats, committee meetings
Assessment annual review, promotion, tenure program review
Rewards salary increases, promotion, tenure departmental rewards
Defining scholarly work

Our work with the disciplinary associations suggests that seeking a unitary definition of scholarship may be less productive than identifying a set of characteristics that typify scholarly endeavors. Most disciplines will agree that scholarly work

  • requires a high level of discipline-related expertise
  • breaks new ground or is innovative
  • can be replicated
  • can be documented
  • can be peer-reviewed

In Scholarship Assessed: Evaluation of the Professoriate, a 1997 report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff proposed a slightly different approach that focuses more on process. Their six characteristics of scholarship include:

  • clear goals
  • adequate preparation
  • appropriate methods
  • significant results
  • effective presentations
  • reflective critique

It is best left to the individual institution, school, college, or department to determine which combination of features or characteristics is appropriate. Using such a model eliminates the many problems associated with definitions of scholarship where disciplinary differences are most apparent. Faculty reward guidelines focused on a set of characteristics that can be applied across the disciplines and represented and documented variously respect the real differences inherent in the academic disciplines.

Post-tenure review and part-time faculty

Although our primary focus is on full-time, tenure-lined faculty, many of the basics apply also to those faculty members already tenured or in part-time positions. In all instances the review of individuals must relate both to the mission and priorities of the institution and the units in which they work and also to their individual assignments. While the review process for part-time faculty and those on term contracts will certainly be less ingenious than that for tenured faculty, it still must be carefully planned, of high quality, and appropriate.

For post-tenure review, the process should be perceived as part of an ongoing professional development effort where the focus is on helping each faculty member reach his or her full potential as a productive member of the academic community. The ideal is for individual faculty members and their institution to consider the review process a positive activity designed to benefit the institution and the individual.

Unfortunately, too many institutions establish a process that is received more as a threat than an integral element for professional growth. The post-tenure review ideally should be simply a continuum of a consultative support system that began when the faculty member first came to the college or university.

Documentation of scholarly work

On each campus there are a number of statements and policies that combine to provide the working base for the faculty reward system. They include:

  • the institutional mission statement
  • institutional guidelines
  • the school or college promotion and tenure or merit pay guidelines
  • the departmental promotion and tenure or merit pay guidelines
  • the collective bargaining agreement (on unionized campuses)

In addition, there are two external documents that can have a role in the process of developing these guidelines:

  • disciplinary statements
  • accreditation standards

Within any context the goal is to develop statements that are both supportive and consistent. When a conflict arises (in a tenure case, for example), it is often the result of poorly articulated policies or of inconsistencies or contradictions among the campus-produced documents. It should be noted that policy statements become more specific as they move upward from the level of institutional documents, to those of the school or college, to the discipline-focused guidelines at the departmental level. The closer the statement is to the department and faculty, the more detailed and specific it becomes, and the statement at each level will directly affect the statements above and/or below it.

Observations and conditions for change

Reconceiving faculty priorities requires a genuine commitment to change.

All too often, major institutional initiatives have been characterized by extensive rhetoric and little action. Russell Edgerton, then president of the American Association for Higher Education, in announcing the first AAHE-sponsored conference to address these issues (1992), Forum on Faculty Roles and Rewards, cautioned:

As in the case of assessment, the aroused interest in clarifying and shifting faculty priorities could unfold in different ways. We can envision a scenario in which there is a growing respect for dimensions of excellence beyond research, and a new appreciation for the ‘practice’ of one’s discipline . . . a culture in which all dimensions of professional and scholarly work are honored and peer reviewed. But we can also envision a nightmarish scenario . . . more reporting requirements, piles of evaluation data no one uses, prizes and rewards that have more to do with public relations than actual faculty motivation or improved performance.

The entire academic community must be actively involved in the change process.

Unless the central administration, deans, chairs, and individual faculty members have ownership of any modifications in the promotion and tenure process that are being proposed, adoption and implementation will be problematic. This ownership can come only from giving faculty an active role in setting priorities, establishing criteria, and determining how revised promotion and tenure plans will not occur. Faculty involvement is necessary throughout the change process: from planning through implementation to assessment. One important factor to keep in mind, based on the data gathered in the Syracuse and Virginia studies, is that this effort will from the beginning have the support of most college faculty members and administrators.

The process of changing the promotion and tenure criteria will be far more difficult in some academic areas than others.

Data from both A National Study of Research Universities on the Balance Between Research and Undergraduate Teaching(Gray, Froh, and Diamond, 1992) and A National Study on the Relative Importance of Research and Undergraduate Teaching at Colleges and Universities (Gray, Diamond, and Adam, 1996) suggest that faculty in the sciences, engineering, and some of the social sciences tend to be more comfortable with the status quo than faculty in other academic areas. In some fields or disciplines the need for change is more strongly felt.

It is no accident that as a result of a number of commissioned studies the National Science Foundation has begun in its grant programs to place increased emphasis on teaching. As federal support for research continues to decline and institutions begin to recognize that the number of research programs they support must be reduced to those of the highest quality, there will be increased pressure on many departments to reestablish priorities and reassess the criteria by which faculty will be recognized and rewarded.

Other disciplines, particularly the humanities, performing arts, most professional schools, and some of the social sciences, will be facing a different problem. Over the last decade or so these disciplines have focused more and more attention on publishable research in order to gain “academic respectability.” They will now be asked to refocus their efforts on activities that until now have received little attention.

The change that we are discussing may be most stressful on our newest faculty members if at a key time in their professional careers the criteria by which they will be judged shift. For those who have received little support or training in teaching, this change may be particularly difficult to make. William Laidlaw addresses these issues in Defining Scholarly Work in Management Education, a task force report for the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (1992):

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, major reports on the field of management education were sponsored by the Ford and Carnegie foundations. Among the findings of those reports were that business schools were too vocational, lacked academic rigor, and taught subjects that were not founded in basic research. The Ford Foundation followed up its report with an investment of more than $30 million to upgrade the quality of doctoral programs, to incorporate research capability from other disciplines, and to create an environment that valued research as the basis for the development of the disciplines in management education. Our field has spent the last 30 years seeking academic respectability among university colleagues by emphasizing research and scholarship, often narrowly defined.

Members of another task force expressed concern that supporting a broader range of scholarly activity might brand their faculty as “academic lightweights,” thus dooming them to an academic underclass. However, this same report claims that the benefits of such change would outweigh the negative implications by bringing greater congruence between the university mission and faculty priorities. In addition, the committee members argued that change would encourage greater diversity within the faculty and support professional activities that benefit society and reduce faculty stress.

Conclusion: It isn’t an option; the faculty reward system must change

Those of us in higher education must modify what we do and where we invest our energies. A chorus of voices from the public and private sectors is calling for change, and our most important clients – our students – are demanding it.

The question is how significant a role we as faculty and administrators will play in the process. We can sit back and mildly protest the status quo until frustrated governmental and external accreditation agencies define for us what we will do and how we will do it, or we can take a proactive role in shaping our future. If we are to do the latter, administrators and the faculty must direct the process and participate actively in the many conversations that will be necessary to negotiate this change.

The initial stage of this process must be to address faculty priorities as determined by the promotion and tenure system. Unless the criteria by which faculty members are recognized and rewarded are modified, what they do will remain constant. Administrators must encourage and facilitate this change process, and they must understand their key role in establishing a receptive climate for change in the priorities of their institutions. Higher education has for too long been able to establish its own agenda. This is simply no longer possible.


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