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Academic Specialist Handbook - Appendix A. Functional Description of Specialist Duties, Advancement in the System and Administrative Responsibilities

This appendix describes the general nature of academic specialist duties in specified functional areas including criteria for advancement in the Academic Specialist Appointment System as well as for administrative assignment. The specific description of duties, including the partitioning of effort among functional areas will be contained in the specific position description for the individual at the time of appointment. Advancement based on an individual's responsibilities in more than one functional area would, of course, depend on an appropriately weighted assessment of that individual in each area of responsibility. Identification of a primary functional area for the individual will be done by the Associate Provost and Associate Vice President for Academic Human Resources as part of the position establishment procedures in accordance with established guidelines.

Individuals who are appointed in the Academic Specialist Appointment System may hold the rank of academic specialist or senior academic specialist. Appointments may be made in any academic unit that reports directly or indirectly to the Provost or the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies. Individuals appointed in the Academic Specialist Appointment System will have ongoing student and faculty interactions, contribute directly to the academic affairs of the unit and must accomplish the goals and objectives of the department, school, college or other designated academic unit.

The academic credentials and the appropriate educationally related experiences and specific duties will vary depending on the nature of the appointment; however, it is expected that the academic specialist will normally have a primary assignment in either academic advising/teaching/curriculum development, research or service/outreach, but may also have other responsibilities including one or more of the referenced functional areas. Changes in characteristics and/or responsibilities of the position are more likely to result in a change in administrative title or functional area designation rather than a change in rank to that of senior academic specialist. Promotion to the rank of senior academic specialist, reappointment and the award of continuing appointment status will be determined using the guidelines of the Academic Specialist Appointment System.

Reappointment of the academic specialist, including the award of continuing appointment status and promotion to the rank of senior academic specialist, must be based on meritorious performance, not merely time spent in the position. General characteristics and responsibilities are included in later sections specific to the particular functional areas. However, the underlying premise is that individuals appointed as academic specialists are professionals dedicated to the performance of their responsibilities, the advancement of the University and maintaining Michigan State University as a premier land-grant, AAU University. The listing of criteria is not intended to be exhaustive. Nor would a single individual necessarily be measured by all the criteria related to a given functional group, even if the duties of that individual fell only within one functional area. Rather, the individual would be evaluated according to the subset of criteria from each functional area involved that is appropriate to the particular position.

Reappointment, including the award of continuing appointment status and promotion to the rank of senior academic specialist, is predicated on the exemplary performance of assigned duties, professional development, excellence in scholarly activity, leadership and contributions to the institution.

  • Consistent with the reappointment/promotion timetable, individuals who believe they have developed an appropriate record of activity and competence may assemble a compendium of scholarly achievements and submit such documentation to support consideration for reappointment or promotion. Such documentation may consist of evidence to substantiate excellence in relevant scholarly activities, i.e., course/curriculum development, teaching, publications, public service/outreach, academic advising, grants, creativity in program development and leadership in other areas related to assigned duties.
  • It is to be recognized that no one individual is to be required to perform or excel in all three functional areas. The initial or subsequent appointment description defines the basic area(s) in which the individual should devote energy and attention in career progression.
  • The unit review committee for academic specialist reappointment or promotion should be provided with guidelines and directed to determine objectively the level of accomplishment and excellence in the relevant academic specialist functional area(s) and specific duty assignments. Each academic specialist is to be evaluated based on individual merit.
  • Recommendations of the review committee are forwarded to the appropriate academic unit administrator. The recommendation of the academic unit administrator is forwarded for subsequent review and action by the relevant major academic unit administrator (usually the dean) and by the Office of the Provost.
  • Upon approval by the Provost, the academic specialist will be notified of the recommended action.

In addition to excellence in performance which warrants reappointment and/or continuing appointment status, a small number of academic specialists may achieve a level of distinction to justify promotion to the rank of senior academic specialist. Such a distinction is to be limited to a small number of individuals appointed in the academic specialist appointment system. The basis for such a promotion recommendation is to be derived from a significantly long and sustained period of excellence in the performance of assigned duties together with the recognition by peers and colleagues both within the University and regionally, nationally and internationally. Such recognition is to be based on external peer review involving evaluation of performance in one or more of the assigned functional areas: teaching/advising/curriculum development, research, public service/outreach. Only in unusual cases would an individual not previously appointed at Michigan State University be appointed at the rank of senior academic specialist. This rank designation is limited to individuals who either have continuing appointment status or would achieve such a status on positive recommendation for promotion to the rank of senior academic specialist. Academic specialists with fixed term appointments who have completed 60 FTE service months are eligible for promotion to senior academic specialist, subject to the same standards and criteria applicable to individuals in the continuing appointment system. (Specialists with fixed term appointments are not eligible for the rank of senior academic specialist upon appointment). A promotion recommendation requires endorsement not only by the immediate academic unit administrator but by intermediate administrators (usually the Dean) and the Provost.

The principal activities of academic specialists are confined to three functional areas (academic advising/teaching/curriculum development, research and service/outreach). Guidance for the assignment of academic specialists to one of the three functional areas and on whether a particular position should be placed within the Academic Specialist Appointment System is described in a document entitled Guidelines for Specialist Placements, which appears as Appendix B. The characteristic duties and responsibilities included in Section A.5. are not intended to supersede the guidelines for specialist placements but only to provide examples of typical activities.

As noted, each academic specialist is classified as being in one functional area in which the individual expends a relevantly significant amount of effort in assigned duties. The academic specialist routinely will have duties which fall into more than one functional area plus other assignments. The specific description of assigned duties is contained in the job description for the individual position. Reappointment/continuing appointment status and promotion of an individual with responsibilities in multiple functional areas will depend on an appropriately weighted assessment of performance in each area. The following detailed descriptions provide a suggested array of duties that may be performed by academic specialists; they are not intended as listings of required job duties.

The academic specialist in this category is actively involved in the instruction/curricular activities of the University. This category is divided into three sub groups: individuals primarily involved in advising students on curricular matters, individuals primarily involved in delivering instruction and individuals primarily involved in curriculum development.

The academic advising category includes individuals who provide advisement on course options and other academically related matters. These academic specialists have responsibilities in an academic department, school or college or in a unit that serves University-wide populations (e.g., Supportive Services, Undergraduate University Division, Honors College). These persons typically:

  • provide advice on course and curriculum selection;
  • monitor students' programs;
  • recommend certification for graduation;
  • maintain contact with advisors in other units;
  • provide incidental information on the relationship between course selection and career options;
  • refer students, when necessary, to other units in the University for assistance with educational, career and personal concerns;
  • participate in activities devoted to the retention of students within University programs;
  • provide assistance and guidance to students reentering programs;
  • may be involved in instructional activities associated with classes, labs and seminars;
  • participate, as required by the unit, in professional development activities, both on and off campus, including conferences, workshops and seminars to enhance the ability and knowledge to perform as an advisor;
  • participate in department/school, college and University level committees;
  • make a significant professional contribution by making scholarly presentations: present papers, lectures or workshops on campus or beyond related to academic advising or training;
  • assume leadership roles involving the coordination, supervision and training of new academic advisors.

The academic specialist in this category is involved significantly in providing instruction for credit in classes, labs, seminars, practica and clinical settings. In general, the goals of any teacher should include the following:

  • to promote the intellectual maturation and honesty of the student;
  • to promote the mastery of the material by the student;
  • to provide appropriate testing and evaluation to allow the student to measure his or her mastery of the material;
  • to promote the understanding by the student of how the material relates to the discipline, the profession, society, the world and the universe;
  • to promote an appropriate climate for diversity in the classroom and other instructional settings;
  • to increase the teacher's mastery of the subject material and the level, breadth and depth of topics taught.

Specifically, the academic specialist or teacher may perform one or more of the following duties:

  • teach/assist in teaching credit courses involving classes, labs, seminars, lectures, demonstrations, etc.;
  • supervise/train/evaluate students in a practicum or clinical setting;
    • supervise/train/evaluate teaching assistants and other instructional staff;
  • provide continuity over time and assist in the resolution of inquiries and problems, especially in courses involving a large number of faculty and staff;
  • participate actively and effectively in the development of curriculum and course content;
  • consult with others within the University on matters such as advising and curricular development;
  • provide cognitive area outreach to K-12 educational system;
  • demonstrate leadership abilities, i.e.,
    • has influence on teaching programs and curriculum of the department, school or college;
    • may be the lead teacher in team teaching;
    • may supervise, train and evaluate other teachers.
  • represent the academic unit in curriculum, instructional or governance issues;
  • make scholarly contributions in relevant cognitive areas and/or in pedagogy;
  • make significant contribution to the advancement of the profession and is so recognized by professional peers.

The curriculum development category includes individuals who plan courses or curricula. Usually such responsibilities are undertaken by individuals appointed in colleges, departments, and schools. These persons typically:

  • participate and, as relevant, provide leadership in the planning and development of curricula, academic programs, and individual courses;
  • participate in the development of instructional materials;
  • evaluate research relating to impact of various curricula and instructional techniques on student learning;
  • undertake literature reviews, compilation of bibliographies, and assist in gathering up-to-date information and analysis for inclusion in courses and academic programs;
  • gather and evaluate curricula and course materials from other institutions to assist in curricula planning and development efforts;
  • participate in the development and evaluation of student testing and the evaluation techniques and procedures;
  • participate, as required by the unit, in professional development activities, both on and off campus, including conferences, workshops, and seminars to enhance abilities and knowledge in the area of curriculum development;
  • make a professional contribution by making scholarly presentations: present papers, lectures, or workshops on campus or beyond related to curriculum development and planning;
  • assume, as relevant, leadership roles involving the coordination, supervision, and training of curriculum development specialists;
  • represent the unit and college in curriculum planning/development deliberation;
  • participate in departmental/school, college and university-level committees.

The academic specialist appointed in this functional area facilitates scholarly research activity of a national and international stature appropriate for a premier land-grant, AAU university. These individuals must perform a lead role on research projects, including developing grant proposals and directing the research project with the designation as principal investigator and/or in performing position responsibilities which require a terminal degree. Individuals in this category typically:

  • promote an appropriate climate for creativity/diversity in the research setting;
  • promote and adhere to intellectual and scholarly honesty;
  • conduct independent research as a principal investigator or is involved in joint research projects on a co-principal investigator basis;
  • may participate in, manage, operate, and/or maintain instrumental facilities, laboratories, computer systems or bureaus conducting research and/or providing service to a wider audience of researchers within the unit, the University, external agencies, or the general research community;
  • contribute significantly to the design and execution of experiments and research projects;
  • analyze and interpret data;
  • contribute directly and indirectly to the research goals and efforts of the unit and/or other University units, external agencies or other external clients;
  • may consult with, collaborate with, supervise, train and otherwise support faculty, students, and other clients in the pursuit of research endeavors;
  • attract and manage, both individually or in concert with others, resources, i.e., people, funding, materials, etc., necessary to the operation of the individual research project or the research support facility;
  • author (or co-author) books, manuscripts, reports and other scholarly instruments reflecting the output of individual research projects and/or research service facilities;
  • may serve on graduate student guidance committees;
  • present seminars, lectures, papers, posters, etc.;
  • may serve as reviewer, editor for journals or other publications;
  • may serve as a consultant in the professional field;
  • play a key role in securing funding for research activities and equipment;
  • is well known and respected outside of Michigan State University and has established a sustained record of important contributions to research proposals, reports, papers, monographs, books or other publications.

The academic specialist appointed in this functional area facilitates service/outreach activities of state, regional, and national stature appropriate for a premier land-grant university. While the service/outreach mission of this University originated in the area of agriculture and the mechanic arts, this emphasis now has broadened to encompass fields such as health, human relations, business, communications, education and government, and extends to urban and international settings. The individual appointed in this category typically:

  • effects and promotes the transfer of information, knowledge and expertise from the University to the general public;
  • is committed to leadership and excellence in the delivery of technical and educational information and knowledge to off-campus clienteles;
  • promotes an appropriate climate for diversity in the service/outreach settings;
  • develops independent projects/programs or is involved in projects directed by others;
  • consults with, collaborates with, supervises, trains and otherwise supports faculty, students and other clientele in the development of service/outreach programs;
  • may manage, consult, direct, operate or maintain diagnostic facilities, laboratories, computer systems or bureaus conducting research, and/or providing services to external agencies and the general public;
  • authors resource materials, technical fact sheets, reports, manuals, computer programs, manuscripts, books and other educational publications on technology and/or applied research for distribution to the public;
  • presents non-credit seminars, lectures, workshops, training, etc. for off-campus client groups;
  • writes grants, individually and cooperatively, and manages resources, i.e., people, funding, materials, etc. necessary to carry out service/outreach programs and projects;
  • may serve as reviewer for grants and publications and/or editor for newsletters and other publications;
  • disseminates to students/professionals/clientele groups relevant research findings and technical information for practical application;
  • conduct needs assessment studies and applied research with the ability to work out appropriate solutions for the people and groups involved;
  • may be a liaison with, respond to requests from, and/or develop cooperative programs with other universities, agencies and organizations as well as the general public;
  • provides program leadership and coordination in the development, execution, monitoring, evaluation and reporting of service/outreach programs;
  • assumes significant roles in peer group organizations and professional societies;
  • obtains recognition within the University, college, professional groups.

An individual appointed in the Academic Specialist Appointment System, in accordance with the Guidelines for Specialist Placements, may also serve in administrative roles related to their functional assignments as an academic specialist. This may involve significant responsibilities in promoting and contributing to the efficient and effective management of the applicable unit or program with the related responsibility of attracting and managing resources, funding, material and/or people to achieve unit/program goals and to maintain administrative accountability. The individual with an appropriate assignment as an academic specialist in one or more of the three previously designated functional areas may be assigned such administrative duties with a relevant title in addition to designation as an academic specialist or senior academic specialist. Examples of such titles could be Assistant to the Dean/Chairperson/Director, Coordinator, plus other relevant academic administrative titles. As is the case for other academic unit administrators, as relevant, such administrative assignments may involve an annual appointment basis and the assignment of an administrative salary increment.

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