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Writing Faculty Performance Reviews: General Guidelines

GOLDEN RULE: Nothing should be a surprise.

Be prepared

Develop a good template and prepare an outline for each review. Carefully review the activity report and other relevant documents (e.g. notes or recommendations from merit, mentoring, or personnel committees, department bylaws or policies, etc.).

Take your time writing it

There tends to be a learning curve for writing reviews. The first cycle takes longer than subsequent ones. Allow more time for the difficult ones, e.g. junior faculty, faculty with areas in need of significant improvement, etc.

Pre-schedule an appointment with the faculty member

Ideally, there have been numerous occasions in which you have talked with the faculty member during the year. If not, it might be wise to meet with the faculty member before preparing the review letter.

Provide a copy to the faculty member prior to meeting

Some argue that giving the faculty member an opportunity to review the letter before meeting with him/her provides more time to prepare defenses. However, if the purpose is primarily developmental, perceptions of fairness are critically important. If the faculty is given the chance to see the letter, she/he is more likely to feel that the chair and process are fair.

Conduct in a private place

There generally should be no other parties present at a performance review session. Make sure that telephone calls are held and interruptions are avoided.

Focus on performance not personality

Concentrate first on specifics with respect to teaching, research, service, and/or outreach. Discuss strengths and areas in need of improvement. Stick to what was done or not done, said or not said. Focus on outcomes and behaviors. Those are the things that can be changed.

Be specific, discuss results

Especially with respect to areas in need of improvement, offer specifics - numbers of publications, level of journal, specific teaching concerns, etc. Focus on outcomes or results for purposes of describing merit, but discuss methods and strategies when working on development and improvement.

Ask questions of the faculty member

A good review session should be a two-way conversation with the faculty member doing most of the talking. This requires the use of good open-ended questions: "Tell me about your research progress and status?" "What ideas do you have for correcting that?" "Are there ways in which your colleagues or I could be helpful to you on this?"

Serve as a coach, a helper

Faculty performance reviews are a difficult process because administrators are asked to do two things that can be in conflict. On the one hand the administrator is to evaluate the work effort of the faculty member; how meritorious was it? On the other hand, administrators are to help faculty grow and develop personally and to better help the unit, college and University accomplish its mission and objectives. One should not forget this role during the review process.

Close positively, with a plan

If there are areas in need of improvement, there should be agreement as to what improvement is needed, by when and with which strategies. If major changes are needed or if others must be involved (e.g. advisory or mentoring committee), the agreement may be to schedule a time for follow-up meeting(s) to develop a plan.

Use objective language

Use measurable, specific statements where possible. Avoid vague statements. Objective statements often answer the questions like - How much?, How many?, and How well?