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Monday, April 22, 2013

Tomorrow's Professor: Answers to Common Questions About the Academic Portfolio

Answers to Common Questions About the Academic Portfolio
In recent years, we have discussed the academic portfolio concept at dozens of colleges and universities of differing sizes, shapes, and missions. We have talked with countless faculty groups and administrators about the portfolio and its place in evaluation of academic performance. And we have served as mentors to numerous professors across disciplines as they prepared their portfolios.

In the course of this activity, certain questions were raised by professors or administrators with much greater frequency than others. This chapter is devoted to answering those questions.

Is the Academic Portfolio Concept in Use Today?

In truth, it has gone well beyond the point of theoretical possibility. More and more institutions?public and private, large and small?are nurturing and rewarding academic performance through portfolios. Some colleges and universities use them to improve performance. Others use them in tenure and promotion decisions. Still others use portfolios for both improving performance and personnel decisions.

Can an Impressive Portfolio Gloss Over Terrible Teaching, Research and Scholarship, or Service Performance?

That is a contradiction in terms because the weak performer cannot document effective performance. The evidence is just not there. An elegant cover, fancy graph, and attractive typeface cannot disguise weak performance. The portfolio is an evidence-based document. Every claim made must be supported by hard evidence. For example, a professor who claims that student evaluations rate his overall teaching performance as ?outstanding? must provide numerical rating data that bear out this claim. A professor who claims to have published an article in a top-tier journal must provide a copy of that published article.

How Much Time Does It Take to Prepare a Portfolio?

Most faculty members construct the portfolio in ?fteen to twenty hours spread over several days. Most of that time is spent thinking, planning, and gathering the documentation for the appendixes. Updating the material is made easy and can be accomplished in a single day if the professor maintains a file of everything relating to teaching, research and scholarship, and service so that all of the evidence needed for a portfolio update is in one location. A gentle caution: When new material is added to the portfolio, older, less relevant material is removed. The size of the portfolio remains about the same.

How Long Is the Typical Academic Portfolio?

The typical portfolio is fourteen to nineteen pages, followed by a series of appendixes that document the claims made in the narrative. Often a three-ring binder holds the portfolio, and tabs identify the different appendixes. Just as information in the narrative should be selective, so should the appendixes consist of judiciously chosen evidence. If the appendixes contain nonprint materials or items that do not ?t within the portfolio cover?such as books, videotapes, or CDs?the professor may brie?y discuss these materials and make them available for inspection on request.

How Does the Academic Portfolio Differ from the Usual Faculty Report to Administrators at the End of Each Academic Year?

First, the portfolio empowers faculty to include the documents and materials that, in their judgment, best re?ect their performance in teaching, research and scholarship, and service. It is not limited to items posed by administrators. Second, the portfolio is based on collaboration and mentoring rather than being prepared by faculty in isolation. Third, in preparing the portfolio, professors engage in structured re?ection about why they do what they do as academic professionals, and for many faculty?almost as a product?it produces an improvement in performance. Fourth, professors describe the nature and significance of their work in clear, simple language, and that is of enormous help to members of tenure and promotion committees, especially those not in the professor's discipline.

Why Do Portfolio Models and Mentors Need to Be Available to Professors as They Prepare Their Own Portfolios?

The models enable them to see how others?in a variety of disciplines?have combined documents and materials into a cohesive whole. Some institutions have found it helpful to make available locally developed portfolio models of exemplary, satisfactory, and unsatisfactory quality. At the same time, since most faculty come to the academic portfolio with no previous experience with the concept, the resources of a mentor with wide knowledge of the ways to document teaching, research and scholarship, and service should be made available to them.

Can a Portfolio Be Prepared by a Professor Working Alone?

An isolated approach to portfolio preparation has limited potential to contribute to tenure and promotion decisions or to improve performance. Why? Because portfolio entries prepared by a professor working alone provide none of the controls or collaboration of evidence that may be needed to sustain personnel decisions. It also enlists none of the collegial or supervisory support needed in a program of performance improvement. In practice, the portfolio is best prepared in collaboration with another person, who serves as portfolio mentor. A department chair, a colleague, or a faculty development specialist can talk to the professor about such guiding questions as why she is preparing the portfolio, what sources of evidence she will include, why she needs balance among the portfolio sections, and what the portfolio must include in order to be in line with current department and institution mission and goals. In short, the portfolio mentor helps the professor separate the wheat
from the chaff.

Must the Mentor Be from the Same Discipline as the Professor Who Is Preparing the Portfolio?

The process of collaboration is not discipline specific. True, a mentor from the same discipline can provide special insights and understandings as well as departmental expectations and practices. But a mentor from a different discipline can often help clarify the institution's viewpoint, the ?big picture.? That can be a significant help since portfolios submitted for personnel decisions are read by faculty and administrators from other disciplines.

Because the Role of the Mentor Is So Crucial, How Are Mentors Recruited?

Once faculty have been taught about the portfolio and coached by trained mentors from outside the institution, a core group of faculty emerges as experienced leaders who can help others in developing their portfolios. A faculty development administrator may facilitate the process by educating both faculty and administrators about academic portfolios, sponsoring in-house workshops, helping faculty members connect with mentors, and setting up a library of reading materials, forms, and sample portfolios. The cost is nominal, and the payoff is better performance in teaching, research and scholarship, and service.

Who Owns the Portfolio?

Without question, the portfolio is owned by the professor who prepared it. Decisions about what goes into the portfolio are generally cooperative ones between the mentor and the professor. But the last word, the final decision on what to include, its ultimate use, and retention of the final document all rest with the professor.

Should Administrators Develop the Portfolio Program and Then Tell Faculty to Prepare Portfolios?

Absolutely not. Imposing a portfolio program on faculty is almost certain to lead to strenuous faculty resistance. Far better is to involve faculty in both developing and running the program. It makes no difference if portfolios are used for tenure and promotion decisions or for improving performance; either way, the program must be faculty driven.

The Portfolio Concept Is Undoubtedly Useful For Junior Faculty, But Why Should Senior Faculty Want to Write One?

All academics stand to benefit from writing a portfolio. At institutions where post-tenure review is required, the portfolio can play a major role in describing and documenting a professor?s ongoing commitment to academic excellence and professional integrity. Portfolios can be instrumental in determining salary increases, merit pay, awards, grants fellowships, and release time.

Moreover, because improvement in performance is a primary motive for engaging in the reflection and documentation that comprise a portfolio, senior faculty can prepare portfolios to sharpen their teaching, research and scholarship, and service skills or set the stage for experimentation and innovation.

Are the Time and Energy Required to Prepare a Portfolio Really Worth the Benefits?

In the view of the writers, and in the views of virtually every one of the scores of faculty members we have personally mentored as they prepared their portfolios, the answer is a resounding yes. It usually takes no more than a few days to prepare, and the benefits are considerable. The portfolio allows professors to describe their strengths and accomplishments for the record, a clear advantage when evaluation committees examine the record in making promotion and tenure decisions. But the portfolio does more than that. Many faculty members report that the very process of collecting and sorting documents and materials that reflect their performance serves as a springboard for self-improvement and a reexamination of priorities.

What Guidelines Would You Suggest for Getting Started with Portfolios?

Perhaps the best way to get started is for a group of faculty to develop general standards of good teaching, research and scholarship, and service. Guiding the group should be the emphasis on the institution?s strategic plan, and the need to develop an institutionwide evaluation system with common elements and procedures, yet have enough flexibility to accommodate diverse approaches to teaching, research and scholarship, and service. The following guidelines should be helpful in doing so:

? Start small.
? Involve the institution?s (or department?s) most respected faculty members from the start.
? Rely on faculty volunteers, and don?t force anyone to participate.
? Obtain top-level administrative support for the portfolio concept and an institutional commitment to provide the necessary resources
to launch the program successfully.
? Field-test the portfolio process.
? Keep everyone?faculty and administrators?fully informed about what is going on every step of the way.
? Permit room for individual differences in portfolios. Styles of teaching, research and scholarship, and service differ. So do

It is important to allow a year, even two years, for the process of acceptance and implementation. During this period, draft documents should be carefully prepared, freely discussed, and modified as needed. And keep in mind that all details of the program need not be in place before implementation. Start the program incrementally, and be ?exible to modi?cation as it develops. Remember that the quest for perfection is endless. Don't stall the program in an endless search for the perfect approach. The goal is improvement, not perfection.

President John F. Kennedy was fond of telling a story about the French marshal Louis Lyautey. When the marshal announced that he wished to plant a tree, his gardener responded that the tree would not reach full growth for a hundred years. ?In that case,? replied Lyautey, ?we have no time to lose. We must start to plant this afternoon." Colleges and universities thinking of using academic portfolios for improvement in performance or personnel decisions have no time to lose. They must get started now. 


Education Administration Headlines + More!

Issue 24 · April 22, 2013
The key to better outcomes for some learners may be personalized learning environments that leverage the relationship between students and teachers. Race to the Top aims to test this supposition.
A quickly growing number of colleges and universities are adopting 100 percent smoke-free campus policies. Model policies are available to interested administrators.
i3 (Investing in Innovation) seeks to accelerate the identification of innovative solutions for the most pressing K-12 challenges. The i3's priorities indicate where those challenges lie.
The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the UCLA Civil Rights Project released two complementary reports addressing the widening disparity in the use of suspensions in middle and high schools and disciplinary alternatives that would be more effective and less vulnerable to bias.
After the D.C. Public Schools announced it would close 15 underutilized schools, it employed marketing techniques to encourage the re-enrollment of affected students in other DCPS schools.
Online Briefings for Education Leaders
Click for more details and to register ...
Tuesday, April 23, 2013 @ 1 PM Eastern
As a Supreme Court Justice once famously said, students and parents don't leave their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate. Administrators must be able to deal with controversies involving freedom of speech, religious liberty, right to a public education, due process, and others. This briefing will survey student rights issues and help you devise a Student Code of Conduct that respects these rights while maintaining effective control of the school environment.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013 @ 1 PM
If your institution has government research or service contracts, you are subject to OFCCP regulations and are required to maintain a written affirmative action plan that is updated annually. An AAP is also a useful tool for achieving faculty and staff diversity. But it's not an easy hurdle. An attorney will walk you through the process and how to use the results for your own purposes.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013 @ 1 PM Eastern
Correctly determining whether your teachers, faculty, administrators, coaches, and staff are entitled to the minimum wage and overtime protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act is more complicated than it appears. For example, do you know how to apply the "learned professional" exemption? An attorney will clarify how the FLSA classification rules play out in an educational setting.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013 @ 1 PM Eastern
The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act regulates disclosure of student records and information. Violations can impede the receipt of federal higher education funding, so it's essential to understand the rules, case law, and practical dimensions of managing student records.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013 @ 1 PM Eastern
How to calculate minimum hours worked, what the intermittent leave rules require, and so many other aspects of FMLA compliance are particularly tricky for a higher education institution. Get tailored information you can apply immediately at your college or university.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013 @ 1 PM Eastern
Where do you draw the line between appropriate dress and freedom of expression? How do students' legitimate religious beliefs play into dress code requirements? School administrators seek practical guidance for navigating this sensitive area of the law and avoiding constitutional violations. An attorney experienced in student dress codes provides that guidance.

Did You Miss Something? -- Webinars on CD Option!
What if you have a time conflict and can't participate in a webinar of interest on its scheduled date and time? Don't worry. You can still take advantage of our CD option. Soon after completion of each webinar, the program will be available on CD. Click here for the complete listing and future ordering information.
Education in the Courts
School Bus Driver Claims First Amendment Right to Display Confederate Flag
A school district in Oregon that contracts with a private company to provide student transportation services asked the company to stop a school bus driver it employed from displaying the Confederate flag, overprinted with the word "redneck," on his truck while parked at a district-owned bus yard leased by the contractor. The case sheds light on how much control a school district has over employees of private companies with which it contracts for services.
The superintendent made the request because he was concerned that the flag sent a potentially disruptive and racially divisive message to students who attended a school program located in a district building adjacent to the bus yard. The district had a history of racial incidents and gang activity that sensitized the superintendent to the symbolic messages a Confederate flag can convey. The school district's anti-harassment policy prohibits jokes, stories, pictures, or objects that are offensive, tend to alarm, annoy, abuse, or demean certain protected individuals or groups in district schools and facilities.
Although the contractor had not previously disciplined its driver for displaying his flag, it reacted to the superintendent's request by asking the driver to remove or conceal the flag while his truck was parked on the lot. The driver refused and instead asked the employer for its policy prohibiting the display, which it did not have. Instead, the school district provided its anti-harassment policy to the contractor. Based on the district's policy, the contractor temporarily suspended the driver. After eventually asking the driver three times to refrain from displaying the Confederate flag on district-owned property, the contractor fired him.
The bus driver then sued his former employer, the school district, and the superintendent for depriving him of his First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and expression and for violating the tort claims provisions of the Oregon state constitution. They, in turn, moved for summary judgment against the plaintiff.
The bus driver's lawsuit depends on his ability to show that his employer's actions were taken under "color of state law." This means that his employer -- a private contractor -- was a "state actor" when it disciplined and fired him. To prove that his employer violated his constitutional rights under color of state law, the driver must show that there was a "close nexus" between the state (as represented by the school district and superintendent), his employer, and the challenged conduct. The Supreme Court has defined four tests for determining whether a private entity's actions amount to state action: (1) public function; (2) compulsion; (3) joint action; and (4) governmental nexus.
In considering whether the bus driver satisfied any of these tests, the district court magistrate judge concluded that material questions of fact exist as to whether the school district and superintendent coerced the contractor to terminate the bus driver and whether the contractor and the school district were joint actors in the driver's termination. Therefore, the judge ruled, the court cannot properly resolve by summary judgment the legal issue of whether the contractor acted under color of state law when it fired the driver.
Another set of tests applies to the question of whether the school district, as a public employer, violated the bus driver's constitutional rights. These tests, articulated by the Ninth Circuit in the sequentialPickering analysis, include whether the driver intended for the flag to express a public message, whether he spoke as a private citizen or a public employee, and whether the driver's protected speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the adverse employment action. The judge concluded that the bus driver satisfied each step of thePickering analysis, and therefore, the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the bus driver's claims should be denied.
The magistrate judge also ruled that the superintendent is not entitled to qualified immunity for the bus driver's First Amendment claim. According to the court, the superintendent could not have believed that he could lawfully demand that the bus driver remove his flag or that he could enforce the school district's anti-harassment policy against the driver, a private employee, either directly or through the contractor.
As for the bus driver's claim under state law, the magistrate relied on the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution, which bars citizens from bringing suit in federal court against a state unless that immunity is waived by the state or abrogated by Congress. Therefore, the judge recommended dismissal of the bus driver's second claim.
The overall result is that the bus driver will have an opportunity to argue in court that the school district, the superintendent, and his employer violated his constitutionally protected right to free speech and expression when they worked together to prevent him from displaying the Confederate flag on his truck.
Read the report and recommendations of the magistrate judge inWebber v. First Student, Inc., Jonel Todd, Jackson County School District 4, and Ben Bergreen
What Counts
Student Loan Debt Burden for "Noncompleters"
Student loan burden is especially heavy for those who do not obtain a postsecondary credential within 6 years of enrolling. Some relevant facts derived from 2009 postsecondary educational data:
·  The percentage of "noncompleters" is highest for students in public 2-year colleges and private for-profit institutions.
·  The cumulative amount borrowed per credit earned was highest for noncompleters who attended for-profit institutions ($350 per credit).
·  The median cumulative federal student debt for all noncompleters was 35% of their annual income. 
-- National Center for Education Statistics
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